1. Middlebury - We haven't seen a team this dominant since Santa Cruz in 2007. They have the best 3 and 4 in the country, probably a top 5 #1 doubles team and a top 5 #1 and #2 singles player. They are just really good everywhere and has showed in their results so far this season. I don't see any team winning more than 3 singles matches against these guys unless they have an incredible day. If you are going to beat Midd, it has to be in doubles. Their 2 and 3 doubles teams are good, but I don't consider them untouchable. With the 7-point system, I think Midd is a lock for a national title, but that's the beauty of the 9-point system. Middlebury should focus on an undefeated regular season and winning their conference tournament because they definitely have some stiff competition still to face in the NESCAC. As of right now, no team has shown that they can challenge the Panthers and until this happens, Midd is my favorite to win a national title this year.
2. CMS - Looking back, their loss against Amherst really puzzles me. I'm not exactly sure what happened to the Stags in that match, but besides that one blemish on their record, they've been playing good tennis, even in a 7-2 loss to Midd. I consider the Stags the 2nd best team in the country right now and they are probably also the deepest team in the country. The main problem I see is that despite having 2 very good players at the top of the lineup, I don't know if their guys can win against the likes of Emory and CLU. Their doubles is also quite streaky and with that 2-1 edge, they are very tough to beat because of their depth. The bottom of their lineup hasn't been rock solid, but rather it's their middle that has been carrying them. They have a tough task this weekend defeating CLU for the 2nd week in a row. That win would certainly pay off though and they would avoid Cruz in the semis of regionals and they would also host the regional at their great facility. I don't think they can beat Midd unless they have a great day, but the Stags are my favorite for national runner-up at the moment.
3. Cal Lutheran -I love it that a team predicted to finish 20th in the country can move up as high as 4th in the country. This team got a few big early season wins and they began to believe in themselves. After that started, the wins just kept coming and didn't stop until they finally lost to CMS. Along with Emory, they have the best top 2 in the country and they also have by far the best doubles team in the country. When they play other teams in the top 8, they need those 3 points every match and I feel like that's where they may fall just short. The teams that they would see in the Final 8 (and even in their regional) are very deep and can probably beat them at the bottom of the lineup as CMS just did. There's an awful lot of pressure of Giuffrida and Ballou to perform every time they step on the court and I think this wears on you. If they beat CMS in the conference final this weekend, it is possible they will have NCAAs at home. If not, they will have quite a task beating Cruz and CMS back to back days to make it to the Final 8. This team can win a national title, but all of the pieces need to fall into place perfectly.
4. Wash U - Wash U hasn't played that difficult of a schedule this year and that's why I'm not sure about this team once they get to the Final 8. They haven't been in many close matches. These guys were my preseason pick to win nationals but they haven't turned out to be quite a dominant as I expected. Watts has lost 2 D3 matches this year which is a shock and their doubles has been up and down as shown by their performance at Indoors. They will be tested twice next weekend at the conference tournament so this will help them a lot, win or lose. They've put themselves in position to make the Final 4 but if you look at Midd, CMS and Emory, Wash U would be the most likely candidate to be upset in the quarters. They have yet to prove that they are rock solid at every spot. That being said, I think this team is as good as anyone and if Watts can get 2 points for his team in big matches, they may see Midd in the NCAA finals.
5. Emory - Emory has had a good season and put itself in position to make their 9th consecutive Final 4 appearance. I think they are the one team that can potentially scare Middlebury because of their firepower at the top combined with their depth, but I'm still not sold on Emory's doubles. I think this is what will make the difference for them. If they get up 2-1 in doubles, I don't know if they can be beaten. It seems to me the only team who would be able to hang at the top 2 spots against the Eagles is Cal Lutheran, they are just that dominant. Emory is basically up 2-0 before the match starts and they have a lot of talent after that, it's just a matter of them getting those 3 other wins. They have locked up a #1 seed and right now they should set their sights on taking back the UAA championship. Emory always plays their best tennis at the end of the season and that's why I like this team going forward.
6. Santa Cruz - I think that even the Slugs knew they were playing over their heads at Indoors. They had wins over 3 great teams and then they went home to California where they should be at their best. They were dominated twice and also beaten by CLU. The Indoors champions now find themselves at #6 in the country and the probable 3rd seed in their region for NCAAs. Their doubles that looked untouchable at Indoors faltered against CLU and I think this really shook their confidence. We've seen the potential of this team and it's about putting it together for 2 consecutive days during regionals. They most likely will have to get through CLU and then CMS and they won't be playing at home. That's a tall order, but if any coach will prepare his players for it, it's Bob Hansen. No one has really been paying attention to Cruz or giving them much respect lately, but remember they were #1 in the country a month ago.
7. Carnegie Mellon - After Middlebury, I don't know if anyone is playing as well as CMU right now. In their last few matches, they've beaten 4 top 15 teams. Finally we are seeing consistency, something that has been lacking the past few years. We know they are loaded with talent and it's finally showing. I don't think they've ever been ranked this high and the thing that's making the difference is that they are getting contributions from everywhere. Just when we thought their doubles was weak, they sweep Hopkins and Kalamazoo. When they lose in doubles, they win 4 singles against Mary Wash and Kenyon. They have conference on their home court next weekend where they have beaten Amherst and Hopkins this year. Right now they look like a Final 4 team but we will see if they can keep it going. They will be a 1 seed in their region and I think Mary Wash or Salisbury is the most likely 2 seed in their region.
8. Amherst - I wouldn't be impressed by this team, but the fact that they beat CMS in Claremont makes a believer out of me. The 3 other top 10 teams who have played the Stags at Biszantz have scored 2, 1 and 3 points in that order. Herst's fall losses are now well in their past, but they are still reflected in their ranking. The loss of Jung hurts this team and they aren't as good now, but they are still very deep and can knock off any team in the country on the right day. I said at the beginning of the season I thought the Jeffs were the most complete team in the country. I think their doubles is a potential question mark after being swept by Cal Lu. For me, the potential for a national title is there, but it's only come out one time this season. They still have matches against Williams, Midd and Trinity (CT) before their conference tournament and I would not be surprised if this team makes another unexpected NCAA run.
9. Kenyon - With a great group of seniors, I had high expectations for the Lords and I know they had high expectations for themselves entering this season. While they have played quite well, they haven't done what they needed to do. They fell just short against Wash U and Emory twice and recently they had a surprising loss to CMU. The ability for a Final 4 showing is clearly there shown by their close results with top teams as well as their pounding of Hopkins. They will have good practice for NCAAs playing against Denison in their conference and I would suspect they could see Kalamazoo as their #2 seed at NCAAs. I think the Lords will repeat their performance of the last two years, but as of now I don't see them going any further than that. As far as who's winning, it's really been up and down. Greenberg got two points on Sunday and they still lost. I was really big on their 2 doubles team, but they haven't been coming through of late either. Kenyon has another month to get it together and they are obviously dangerous at NCAAs.
10. Johns Hopkins - Despite their loss to Wash U at Indoors, I was still high on Hopkins after that tournament. I thought they definitely had top 5 potential. In the pre-season and early part of the season, I constantly praised Hopkins depth and referred to their 3 through 5 singles as arguably the best in the country. This has proved to be far from true and that's what is killing this team. They aren't winning that middle and bottom of the lineup where they are supposed to be so strong. Now it's possible that they just had a bad weekend and will regroup, but those are two wins they needed to convince me that they are a contender. They are still in line for a top seed at NCAAs so that is good for them and I feel as though they will most likely be grouped with NCW, which is a team they beat 8-1. Hopkins needs to rethink doubles and win at the bottom of the lineup if they want to make an impact in the Final 8.
11. NC Wesleyan - I was unsure what to expect of this team pre-season but I think they have performed quite well. They got the win that really made them believe against Williams, but faltered against Hopkins. They still don't play that strong of a schedule so I don't see them moving above 11 for the rest of the year. This could potentially be bad because they will now be a 2 seed in their region. I think a region with them and Hopkins is quite likely, but they could also see Emory due to geographic proximity. Newport is no pushover, so the Bishops need to play good tennis in the conference final. They seemed to improve as last season progressed and I would assume the same is happening this season. They can't afford to get down to Hopkins in doubles again or their season will end in the Sweet 16. This is definitely a program on the rise and one to watch in the coming years.
12. Williams - The Ephs didn't get the start they were looking for with a surprising loss against NC Wesleyan, but the fact that they are traditionally good is keeping them in the top 12 for the time being. They got a much needed win over a tough Vassar team but they still have to play the top 4 NESCAC teams. I think they must go 2-2 in this stretch to make the tournament. Unless they happen to beat Amherst or Midd, they will be a 2 seed in their region and from the looks of it, Amherst may be their #1 seed. This is a good team, but they continue to struggle in doubles. They can play with anyone all the way through the singles lineup, but they were swept in doubles by the 2 top 15 teams that they have faced. I'm still a believer in Williams, but they need to fix their doubles immediately. One big win can turn around their season and with the tradition this program carries, I won't be surprised if they get it.
13. Trinity (TX) - They probably won't find themselves this high in the ITA rankings, but this is a really good team. They have some of the best doubles in the country and are as strong at the top 3 spots as other teams in this range. Bad scheduling did in their Pool C chances with a loss to Redlands, but they are still in good position to win their conference and make the tournament. If they can avoid the West region, I think this team could end up in the Final 8. I think a region with them and Hopkins or Kenyon could prove to be very interesting. The team they have to worry about right now is DePauw and I think it's all about doubles for them in that match. They get up in doubles and I think they will be just fine. The Tigers are still in a good spot and they are on a mission to take back the SCAC title.
14. Bowdoin - The Polar Bears did what they needed to do in the early part of their season and got key out of conference victories against Salisbury and Redlands, as well as a much needed win against Trinity (CT) in what is arguably the biggest match of their season. The impressive thing is that they did all of this without their most valuable player. If Pena is back before the end of the year, this could be a top 10 team. They still have a shot at Williams this season which will be a big match for them and if they don't win it, a win against Trinity (CT) in the first round of the conference tourney will get them in the tournament barring Chicago does nothing spectacular. Bowdoin has impressed me and they are in a good spot right now because they really need to play their way out of the NCAA tourney, rather than into it.
15. Chicago - It's a shame, but one loss could keep them out of the tournament this year. With Pool C being so competitive, that 7-2 loss to Kalamazoo early in the season will most likely keep the Maroons out of NCAAs this year. They don't have as strong of a resume as Bowdoin and if the Polar Bears get another win over Trinity (CT) in the NESCAC tourney, the Maroons won't have a prayer. The unfortunate thing for Chicago is they have 3 of the top 7 teams in the country in their conference and they have to beat one of them in about 10 days if they want to make the tournament. I just don't see it happening. This is clearly a great team but they fall prey to the bad NCAA selection process. If they can beat Wash U or Carnegie, they deserve to make the tournament.
16. Trinity (CT) - I mentioned in their pre-season preview that scheduling will kill the Bantams this year. They don't play a strong out of conference schedule so they won't have wins on their resume for the NCAA tournament. This forces them to beat one of the top teams in the NESCAC. They have already failed against Bowdoin and Midd, and that leaves Williams and Amherst. This is a strong and top-heavy team, but their season comes down to whether or not they can pull off an upset against one of those two. They would also need to follow this up with a good showing in the NESCAC tournament. I just don't see them being able to do this and I think they will fall just short of the tournament. They need to schedule more out-of-conference matches if they want to make a splash in Pool C. It's unfortunate, but it's how the system works.
17. DePauw - The Tigers had a good year last year and qualified for the National Indoor tournament but they finished 7th because of a very difficult draw. They had one weekend on their schedule that I knew would define their season. That was home matches against Kalamazoo and Chicago. They were struggling with injuries that weekend and lost both matches 7-2 on their home courts. After this occured, we knew they would have to win their conference to get in the tournament. I think they are pretty evenly matched with Trinity (TX), and they have won 3 consecutive conference titles. Their season comes down to one match, but they also have to be careful to not overlook a tricky Rhodes team in the semis. The Tigers are strong this year, it just depends if they can come through when it matters most.
18. Redlands - The Bulldogs expect to be a top 10 team every year and a finish out of the top 15 is a down year for them. They have also made the NCAA tournament many years in a row so this should be quite a shock for them this year to miss it. I was expecting a big year from Redlands because of their strong recruiting class. I also thought Spearman could improve and become one of the best players in D3. The thing that killed this team is the loss of Reading, their #2 player. That coupled with some early season losses shook their confidence and they weren't able to recover. They should manage to finish 3rd in their conference and in the top 20, but this year doesn't live up to the standards of the great tennis tradition at Redlands.
19. Kalamazoo - Kzoo shocked me at the beginning of the season when they came out and gave Kenyon a hard time and then followed it up with dominant wins against Chicago and DePauw. I didn't even consider them a top 20 team, but they peaked at #13 in the ITA rankings. Things went downhill after that. They were swept in doubles against Salisbury and then barely got a win against Newport. They were beaten routinely by CMU and then lost to DePauw to finish 4th in the GLCA. Right now, this team is struggling but we know they have it in them to play with the best in the country. I would expect them to find their early season form for the tournament and give the top seed in their region a hard time.
20. Whitman - I actually expected pretty big things from this team this year. They stayed undefeated in their conference and played Cruz pretty tough the second time around. The one match I think they will be disappointed with is the 7-2 loss against Redlands. I thought this was a winnable match for a team this strong. Solomon is a very good player and he's been a good leader for them. If they can manage to avoid the West Regional in NCAAs, they are potentially dangerous to the top seed in their region because they are experienced and have a good balance of top players and depth. This is a good, experienced team and one to watch in the tournament.
21. Salisbury - They had an average California swing getting crushed three times by stronger teams, but when they returned home, they had the win that defined their season in an upset against Kalamazoo. They barely managed to get the win after sweeping doubles and this was an early sign that maybe they weren't deserving of their #14 ranking after this match. Salisbury is pretty strong everywhere and I was pretty impressed with them prior to the Mary Wash match. They were swept in singles which is just unacceptable for a team ranked top 15. They have the conference championship coming up and they will have to win on the road to get in the tournament.
22. Pomona - Pitzer - Despite having a strong team and starting the season fairly well, the Hens are a distant 4th in their conference with the emergence of Cal Lu this year. They will miss the tournament but this doesn't mean they aren't a strong team. I think they could upset Redlands on the right day and the fact that they are still young is quite promising for the future. I think this program gains a little bit each year and they were up to #17 in the ITA rankings this year after a convincing win against Mary Wash. About what I expected from the Hens this year, and they still have their conference tournament to play.
23. Mary Washington - Overall a poor season for the Eagles however as I've said several times, they got the win they needed against Salisbury. This team has good depth and could give some of the best teams in the country a hard time. Their doubles has been up and down but I feel like they need to step up their doubles play when they play top 15 teams. If they can beat Salisbury again in the conference final, I would consider this a successful season for the Eagles even if they don't finish in the top 20. They could get a #2 seed in their region and be a potential threat to Carnegie or Hopkins.
24. Vassar - They were one of the hottest teams in the country a month ago but their flaws became apparent when they started facing stronger competition. This team rarely sees the national scene so I consider this a good season for them with two seniors leading the way. With a little bit of luck, Vassar could find themselves as a #2 seed in their NCAA region. They just don't have the depth of the other top Northeast teams and if they can't get ahead in doubles it will be very tough for them to stay competitive with top 20 teams.
25. Washington & Lee - I find their season eerily similar to Mary Washington, however the difference is that the Generals lost their regular season match against the team they need to beat. HSC is clearly not that strong of a team after losing to Salisbury 8-1, but somehow they manage to get pumped up to beat W&L. The Generals lone good win is against their in-state rival UMW, but they have losses to Salisbury, Chicago and HSC. So far a disappointing season for the Generals but they still have a big match coming up in about two weeks that could give them back the conference title and put them into the tournament.