As a pollster for the Buffalo News, I'm asked to send in my weekly ballots ranking the top ten large and small schools. The polls are based on games played through Sunday of each week. Here's a look at how I see them and some of the rationale used to get there.
1. Niagara Falls (AA) - Host Kenmore West tomorrow night and are still without the services of point guard JJ Wilkes. That should make for a more competitive game, but the Wolverines have to win that game regardless. From the small sampling I have at this point in the season, I think Falls is a touch ahead of Canisius.
2. Canisius (MMA) - Handily beat Bishop Kearney back in December, but it was a Kings team without its Division I big man and they played like a shell of the team that had visited Niagara Falls earlier in the month. Canisius took care of business that night, but its opponent showed little fight. I'm also not ready to just ignore the loss to Olean and assume the Huskies would beat Falls also. Crusaders were 1-2 at Jesuit Tournament and didn't exactly put Pittsford Mendon away like they should have. Rivalry week is here, but first, St. Mary's awaits.
3. Williamsville North (AA) - I didn't think I'd be voting them to this spot after watching them drop a close one at home to Clarence. But then I watched them control the game at Jamestown in front of a massive Southern Tier crowd. The Spartans are now 7-1, with double-digit road wins over the top competition in ECIC I and their only loss being by a point.
4. Jamestown (AA) - The Red Raiders were thoroughly outplayed by Williamsville North, but in their defense, they missed so many point blank putbacks and layups in that game that it literally gave new meaning to the term "can't buy a basket". The rematch on Hopkins Rd on 1/31 will be a must see, and the place will be packed with every casual fan in WNY.
5. St. Joe's (MMA) - They ran Middle College, Aquinas, Cheektowaga, & I-Prep out of the gym, and then needed double overtime to put St. Mary's away. They host St. Francis on Thursday, before the Canisius game on Saturday. The Marauders better not look past Frannies like they did at the end of the regular season last year.
6. McKinley (A1) - Hard to believe I have to vote the Macks outside of the top five, but that's what the season's results call for right now. They passed their first major league road test with a win at East last week. This Wednesday, McKinley hosts Clarence in a top 10 large school nonleaguer.
7. Clarence (AA) - Tough break for the Red Devils to go into Williamsville North, hand them its only loss of the season, and then watch them move up in the poll. But I had to consider big losses to both Jamestown and North, along with needing OT at home against Fredonia. Go get a win at McKinley and jump on the cc poll ballot escalator.
8. Timon/St. Jude (MMA) - Things are starting to take form for Timon. A solid showing in Jamestown had them nearly pulling out the tournament championship and upset over the hosts without Donte Williams. They host red hot Nichols tonight. I'm keeping the Tigers behind Clarence because the win at North has to be rewarded somewhere, in this case it kept them ahead of Timon.
9. Kenmore West (AA) - Only loses to St. Joe's and Timon. Best win was against Sweet Home. The Blue Devils have a huge opportunity tomorrow night, traveling to Niagara Falls to face a Wolverines team without their top guard in Wilkes. Arguably the most important game of the season for Kenmore West.
10. Amherst (A2) - The Tigers have had some close calls with Depew, East Aurora, and Lake Shore, but they're still 8-1, unbeaten in ECIC III, and got a solid win at Williamsville South to claim the Jolly Boys tournament championship.
1. Nichols (MMA) - Only loss is to Sweet Home, whose only loss was to Kenmore West. Key wins include Cleveland Hill, Maryvale, and now Olean. I realize the Huskies were without Sam Eckstrom, but since when did we consider that team a one-man show? Consider this: The Vikings took the long ride to St. Bonaventure, located in Olean, and didn't exactly win at the buzzer. They earned a nine-point win and held the lead the entire second half. Wil Bathurst was limited to just three second half points. Nichols took care of business and earned this bump, at least for this week. Timon, Niagara Catholic, and Aquinas are all on tap this week for these Vikings.
2. Olean (B1) - I have yet to hear that Sam Eckstrom is back in the Huskies lineup. Until I do, I have to operate under the premise of Nichols is better than Olean without him, that much I know for sure. To the pollsters who keep Olean on top, I ask why even bother to play the game if Nichols had nothing to gain by facing that team without Eckstrom? I won't assume anyone else could beat Olean under those same circumstances, even though I think the next two would as well.
3. Silver Creek (C2) - I moved the Black Knights ahead of Middle College because I believe they are better than last year's team that lost at the buzzer to the Kats, and I don't think this year's Middle College is better than last year's OTC/MEC.
4. Middle College (C1) - The nonleague game against St. Joe's certainly got away from them. Now that they play with the Yale Cup large schools, lots of good games ahead for the Kats. This week includes a trip to South Park and hosting East.
5. St. Mary's (MMA) - Winners of the Akron and Depew tournaments included wins against Hutch-Tech and Lancaster. Also took St. Joe's to a pair of overtime sessions.
6. East (B2) - I didn't even have the Panthers ranked when I cast my votes in December. But since then, they have gotten Percy Bryant back and are a totally different team. Recent wins against Bennett, South Park, and Franklin (Sec V), and a back-and-forth affair with McKinley.
7. Cleveland Hill (B2) - They won the Maryvale tournament and looked great in doing so. This team is balanced and athletic. Wednesday night is a big night for the ECIC IV race because...
8. Lackawanna (B1) - The Steelers travel to Cleveland Hill this Wednesday to battle the Eagles for first place in the division.
9. East Aurora (B1) - The Blue Devils' last three wins were over Pioneer, CSAT, and Maryvale. Lost to Amherst on a desparation buzzer-beater.
10. Maryvale (B1) - All four loses are to teams ahead of them on my ballot: Amherst, Nichols, Cleveland Hill, and East Aurora. Also own big wins over East Aurora and Lancaster, along with a hard fought victory against Akron. For now, I'll take them ahead of a pair of Charter Schools - CSAT and Oracle.