Our projected Field of 32

It’s that time of year again, our first playoff projections.

This is where we take the 23 automatic bids, 11 of which are not yet set, then figure out at-large bids, some of which will lose between now and Selection Sunday, then seed them and pair them up logically … or fiscally … or geographically … or fiscally, depending on the bracket.

In doing this every year, we have to toe a fine line. We can call some conference races, leave some open, pretend we know what’s going to happen, or ignore what has yet to be played. This is an inexact science, but it’s an attempt to look at the entire field using the NCAA’s stated selection/seeding criteria. But you can’t simply try to project one bracket by itself. How do you know if there are eight West teams getting into the field, and not seven or nine or 10?

First, the basics:

Thirty-two teams will form four eight-team brackets. And we know the champions of 23 conferences will get an automatic bid to the playoffs. Three bids (Pool B) are set aside for independents or members of non-automatic bid conferences. The remaining six bids go to what’s called Pool C, which is everyone left over.

So how will the brackets be formed, who will play whom? That’s what we hope to answer. For more info check out our Playoff FAQ.

We projected the following results for Week 11: Wabash beating DePauw, Thomas More beating Mount St. Joseph, Johns Hopkins winning the Centennial. We didn’t project a winner in the NJAC, NEFC, Liberty League, USA South or NATHC because it didn’t appear it would matter to seedings. Nor did we project an Albright/Lebanon Valley winner. Their numbers are fairly similar no matter who wins.

Teams that have clinched playoff spots are in bold. On with the brackets:

Mount Union Bracket (seeded No. 1)
1. Mount Union
2. Delaware Valley
3. Alfred
4. NJAC winner
5. Lebanon Valley/Albright winner (Pool C)
6. NEFC winner
7. LL winner
8. Johns Hopkins
If Susquehanna beats Union, we’d probably flop them with Susquehanna. That would put JHU at Delaware Valley, but the NCAA committee only tries to avoid conference rematches in the first round. It doesn’t worry as much about non-conference rematches. If Averett wins the USA South, I would put it No. 8 in this bracket. The schools are within 500 miles of each other. The other USAC contender is North Carolina Wesleyan, which is more than 500 miles from Mount Union, outside the driving radius. Oh, and I guess I should just point out that Mount Union is in a bracket filled with primarily East teams.

UW-Whitewater Bracket (seeded No. 2)
1. UW-Whitewater
2. Wittenberg
3. Case Western Reserve (Pool B)
4. Illinois Wesleyan
5. Wabash (Pool C)
6. Trine
7. Ohio Northern (Pool C)
8. DePauw
DePauw with a loss would be looking at the No. 8 seed. With a win, they would grade out ahead of Trine, Wabash isn’t in this bracket, or even in the field. Dickinson would be next on the list if it wins and doesn’t get the Centennial Conference bid. Ohio Northern is in over Dickinson for now because it possesses something no other Pool C contender has: a win against a regionally ranked team. It also had the highest SOS of any Pool C contender. UW-Whitewater moved into this bracket

St. John’s Bracket (seeded No. 3)
1. St. John’s
2. Linfield
3. Central
4. Monmouth
5. St. Thomas (Pool C)
6. Coe (Pool C)
7. Cal Lutheran
8. NATHC champ
I was tempted to swap Monmouth and Illinois Wesleyan, but either way, one bracket would have had four unbeaten teams at the top. This would be a spot where we’d break apart the brackets, not because of geography but because the NCAA would not have Coe and Central meet in the first round. So, the Northern Athletics Conference champ at Central and Coe at St. John’s.

Wesley Bracket (seeded No. 4)
1. Wesley (Pool B)
2. Hampden-Sydney
3. Thomas More
4. Huntingdon (Pool B)
5. Mississippi College
6. Mary Hardin-Baylor (Pool C)
7. Mount St. Joseph
8. USAC winner
Mount St. Joseph fits better in this grouping than DePauw does, geographically. Mary Hardin-Baylor is flying to Thomas More, but heck, it has to fly somewhere.

St. Thomas, Coe, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Wabash, Lebanon Valley-Albright winner and Ohio Northern were the six Pool C teams I chose. Left on the board: the NJAC runner-up representing the East, North Central representing the North, Dickinson from the South and St. Norbert from the West.