The Maple Leafs were honored on Monday for their impeccable five-game winning streak that propelled them to a No. 19 national ranking. This is the first time the men’s basketball team received enough votes to appear in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ top 25 ranking.
The Mid-Central College Conference remains one of the strongest conferences, with four teams in the top 25 ranking. Indiana Wesleyan University is ranked first, Grace College is ranked fourth, Saint Francis University is ranked 15th and Goshen College is ranked 19th.
“The MCC is brutal and as we start beating up on each other, I’m sure there will be a lot of change in the weekly national poll,” said Gary Chupp, head coach. “Usually, teams ranked in the top 20 at the end of the season will receive an at-large bid, and if we are fortunate enough to be ranked at the end of the season, that would mean the first ever trip to Branson, Mo. for the national tournament.”
Coaches from each conference select a person, called a rater, who submits their pick for the conference’s top six teams every week. Chupp explains that “based on the information from each conference top six, the rater then votes on the national top 25, and those votes are what determines the National Association of Indiana Athletics top 25.”
While this is the first time the Leafs made it to the top 25, this is not the first year that Goshen received votes. “Two years ago we had a team led by Errick McCollum that was good enough to be ranked, but the conference was so strong that we finished the year No. 32,” Chupp said. “The biggest difference with this year’s team is that we added several players that have all come from winning backgrounds. Our returning players all put in great off-seasons, and with the addition of our newcomers, we have meshed pretty quickly.”
The work is not over for the Leafs, as they have more than half of the 2011-2012 season left to compete. “While it is great to be ranked this early in the season, the final ranking of the year is much more important because the at-large bids for the national tournament are determined based on that ranking,” Chupp said. “Hopefully our basketball program can get to the point in which we are consistently considered for national rankings, but being the first time our program has ever been ranked, I feel like it is a tremendous accomplishment for our guys.”
While the team’s record is a strong 9-1 after a nine-game winning streak, each game’s results could raise or lower their No. 19. This added weight could hinder the team’s ability to maintain this rank; however, with new players from winning backgrounds to accompany a strong set of returning players, the men could find themselves at Branson in March.
“I’m curious to see how our guys respond to having a target on their back,” Chupp said. “Our conference is so difficult that if we don’t bring our best effort to the court every night, anyone can knock us off. Our goal from day one is to get to Branson for the national championship.”
To top off their No. 19 rank, the Maple Leafs are ranked in the top 20 for scoring defense with an averaging 65.0 points per game; fifth in field goal percentage defense (.386), and second in 3-point goal defense (.250).