Playoff projection

Better a little later in the week than never, right? This seemed so simple a few days ago, until I got hung up on balancing the brackets, and trying to give Delaware Valley an appropriate first-round matchup, and trying to figure out what to do with the 10 South teams … etc.

I decided instead of spending a lot of text explaining who plays whom since the seedings and travel and conference rematches don’t always line up, I would just create a darn bracket. So here, download the projected bracket and see what we’re talking about.

And now the concept. In order to do this, you have to project some winners and not necessarily others. We have to consider the worst-case geographic scenario of Maine Maritime beating Endicott for the NEFC title — if Endicott wins, we have a tad more flexibility.

Muhlenberg to the Mount Union bracket is done to create more reasonable matchups in that group of eight. Otherwise, with Maine Maritime basically locked into playing SUNY-Maritime, and Cortland State and Rowan not able to play each other in the first round because they’re in the same conference, it made the first-round matchups too unfair (aka, Rowan at Delaware Valley). Swapping Rowan and Muhlenberg between brackets gives us a little more room to work. Rowan gets the home game it’s supposed to get according to the regional rankings. And the NCAA doesn’t care so much about a rematch of teams that met in non-conference games in the regular season.

I really wanted Benedictine to be playing UW-Whitewater in the first round but couldn’t find a suitable team to move to the St. Thomas bracket in Benedictine’s place. The Indiana teams can’t get to St. Thomas geographically. St. Norbert could go there but I can’t get Hanover to Wartburg, should Hanover win the HCAC on Saturday.

Pool B in our projections:

Pool C, in order of selection:
Ohio Northern

Left on the board:
Illinois Wesleyan, Ursinus, Coe. (Montclair State never gets to the board as Rowan is the last one in.)

Why Rowan instead of Montclair? First things first, of course, the NCAA has them ranked that way. Do I think that’s correct? No. But things aren’t going to get any better for Montclair.

Some reasons (other than politics) as to how Rowan could be ahead of Montclair State at this point in time.

  • In a three-way triangle, sometimes it’s all about “what have you done for me lately” and Montclair is the last to lose.
  • For a committee that cited some really non-standard criteria for choosing W&J over St. Norbert last year, I considered that Montclair played Westfield State out of conference while Rowan played Lycoming. Significant difference.
  • If last quarter of the season is considered … well, see bullet point 1

This could always change around on Saturday night, once the NJAC’s champion is officially crowned. At that point, the NCAA could (should) really consider ranking the other two NJAC teams in the order of their head-to-head contest.

There is more to say, but I’ll have to add in the comments later. Have to move on to other stuff for a little while. Questions, fire away. Hopefully I’ve hit some of the big ones already.

Triple Take, Rivalry week

Eric Hamilton, Sean Clark
Coach Eric Hamilton, left, always seems to have his team up for archrival Rowan.

They always say that the records go out the window during a rivalry game. Players and coaches handle the emotions — and the pressures — of a rivalry differently. The teams aren’t the same as in other games; they have a unique fire inside them. They’re not always playing to go on to next week; more than ever, they’re playing for now.

The last weekend of the regular season plays host to rivalries across the country. Most people know the biggest ones: Williams/Amherst, Wabash/DePauw, Cortland State/Ithaca, Hampden-Sydney/Randolph-Macon. But there are many that are laced with history and excitement that deserve pomp as well: Muhlenberg/Moravian, Thomas More/Mount St. Joseph, Salisbury/Frostburg State, among others.

Throw down the gauntlet and pick up your spirits. Rivalry week is here. Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps bring you the forecast to those types of games and more in the culmination of the regular season.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: Willamette at No. 19 Pacific Lutheran.
Going into this weekend, the national landscape is still dotted with several one-loss teams (PLU included). Willamette’s chances for a Pool C bid are remote with two losses under its belt, but stranger things have happened when the NCAA gets its mitts on the criteria. And who knows how many teams will be in contention after Saturday afternoon. That leaves us with two teams, coming from the ultra-competitive Northwest Conference, having a lot at stake. Plus, it should be fun to see the collision between PLU and WU, which have scored 265 and 350 points, respectively, this season.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Wittenberg at Wooster. Wittenberg has played quite well at home, rather poorly on the road. Wittenberg’s home slate was relatively soft until this past week: Olivet, Ohio Wesleyan, the Wash U team which had lost at Rhodes the week before, Hiram and Kenyon. Then there was Wabash. Is that a new trend? Good year for the Tigers to have six games at home and four on the road, but Wittenberg will need this particular road victory in order to clinch the NCAC title.
Keith’s take: Wash. U. at Chicago. Though having in the neighborhood of a dozen teams still in pursuit of a bid in Pool C bid in Week 11 isn’t all that abnormal, having so many Pool B teams alive for a playoff spot is. Usually the three spots are all but wrapped up by now. The winner of the game between the Bears and Maroons will be put side-by-side with Salisbury for the third Pool B spot, making this the week’s best matchup of even teams with playoff implications.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 9 Wittenberg at Wooster.
Against decent teams this year, the Scots really haven’t won big nor have they lost big. And with a chance to force a three-way tie in the NCAC, Wooster has a lot to be playing for. What needs to happen? Wooster needs to improve its defense, especially its secondary, if it hopes to have a slice of the NCAC title pie. Big games can do crazy things to teams, and if Witt wants its ticket punched, it will have to earn it.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Montclair State at William Paterson. Based this off of last week’s closer-than-expected Montclair State-Brockport State. The Pioneers have had a bit of a bad stretch of late, but they’re at home, and needing a win to finish the season at .500.
Keith’s take: No. 13 Wartburg at Simpson. Teams with their playoff spots clinched already worry me. It’s important to remember even if you’re in the field of 32, you’re still playing for a potential home game and a better matchup. But unless it’s stressed to them, college kids aren’t always tuned in to such minute details. And every year some team plays its way out of a good situation in Week 11 and gets sent on the road to a powerhouse instead. With one of the nation’s best scoring defenses (No. 11, 11.11 points per game) against one of the worst scoring offenses (No. 218, 13.67), there’s no reason Wartburg, which plowed through its six of its first seven opponents but has beaten the past two by single digits, should lose. But human nature might make it a more difficult win than it would seem.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 17 Cal Lutheran.
In recent years, Cal Lutheran and Occidental have traded wins when they’ve played each other. Not that that’s any real indicator of 2010, when the Kingsmen have a huge win on their resume, but it’s just something to keep in mind. If Cal Lutheran’s secondary doesn’t stay on its toes, it will get shredded by Luke Collis and his receivers. A win is crucial for the Kingsmen because they certainly want to soak up some momentum going into the postseason — especially if they’re going to be forced into a rematch with Linfield.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Pacific Lutheran. Both teams are motivated, we get that. PLU needs the win to stay in the playoff hunt, while Willamette … well, the Bearcats could be in the discussion if enough teams lose, I suppose. But I am looking at this game because I think Willamette has been pushed back under the radar a little unfairly considering their resume this season: two “good” losses and a pretty good road win as well.
Keith’s take: No. 7 Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys are very deserving of a Pool C bid, especially if they take care of business against 6-3 Louisiana College, a team I thought might have a chance to play its way in in Week 11 way back in Kickoff. HSU is 26th in the country in pass efficiency defense, and it should be able to match up against the nation’s most prolific passing attack and No. 3 scoring offense (LC throws for 387 yards per game and scores about 46 points). But even with the Cowboys being able to match that (304 and 45) and playing to keep postseason hopes alive, the potential here for a shootout makes it a more likely place for an upset than most.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Louisiana College.
Starting the season 1-3, the Wildcats fell from the broader public discourse early in the season. But at 6-1 in the ASC, they are clearly in the conference’s top tier this season. And they’re coming off a dramatic late-game win against McMurry before hosting Hardin-Simmons this Saturday. HSU is looking to pick up a playoff spot, but LC is ready to spoil that effort and have sole control of No. 2 in the conference. Averaging 385 yards a game, LC’s Ben McLaughlin is the ASC’s most prolific passer. He has just 12 interceptions in over 400 attempts and has connected for scores 37 times.
Pat’s take: Christopher Newport. With the Captains hosting Methodist and already holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over North Carolina Wesleyan, it seems like a foregone conclusion that CNU will be returning to the playoffs. And although they’ll be 6-4, they’ll have cover from St. Lawrence, which will be 5-5 at best, possibly 4-6. Frostburg State is a bad loss back on Week 3, but there haven’t been any other bad losses and four consecutive wins on top of it.
Keith’s take: St. Lawrence. They’re going to make the playoffs yet finish with a losing record. I’d be willing to bet the just-less-than-500-miles-to-Alliance Saints are going to Mount Union next Saturday for a first-round exposure to what a serious D-III playoff team looks like. So the least St. Lawrence can do is beat WPI on Saturday and go in at 5-5 with its heads held high and its confidence up so that it can at least buy into the dream in Ohio, even if it will be hard for the rest of us to do so.

Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded).
Ryan’s take: Randolph-Macon at Hampden-Sydney.
For the first time since 2006, both of the teams in The Game don’t have a shot at going to the postseason. One of them does, however: H-SC. The Tigers can’t win the Old Dominion’s automatic qualifier, but they have some quality wins that will put them in good shape for Pool C contention. While H-SC averages over 420 yards of offense a game, turnovers have been a dangerous Achilles heel for the team. And what’s the story with R-MC? The Yellow Jackets saw their star fade when they lost their fifth-year starting quarterback midway through October. At this point, pride is the biggest thing on the table for them. A worthy goal, to be sure.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Rowan at TCNJ. TCNJ put up a surprise against Kean last week, winning 7-0, holding Jason Gwaltney under 100 yards rushing. Eric Hamilton didn’t win 200-plus games for nothing and don’t expect TCNJ to come out with anything less than everything it’s got against its archrival. This game was good when played on a Friday night, but it belongs in Week 11 and the NJAC should do everything it can to keep it there.
Keith’s take: Hanover at No. 24 Franklin. Victory Bell rivalry game makes it worth watching alone. But put the HCAC title and automatic bid on the line, and ratchet up the excitement to fever pitch. It’s simple, some are going to respond to the pressure, some might wilt under it, and perhaps if most on both teams rise to the challenge, you get a game for the ages, and the winner gets at least one more week of season.

Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Lack of momentum won’t necessarily be a reason to pick against them when they (presumably) rematch Hardin-Simmons next weekend, but the Crusaders have played their last two games against teams that combine to be 3-15. And UMHB hasn’t been challenged in the least. Saturday, they face off against Texas Lutheran, whose 4-5 wouldn’t be so bad until you realize that they’ve lost three of their last four games, getting crushed in those losses. UMHB had better be ready to step up its game once Round 1 rolls around if it hopes to make it to Round 2.
Pat’s take: St. Lawrence. Regardless of what happens Saturday.
Keith’s take: Coe. There are the games competitors look forward to because they know their best effort will be required, and then there are the ones against 0-9 teams. Cornell might give a better than ‘just playing out the string’ effort for its longtime rival, but Coe should be pulling its starters out early in the second half. And while it’s good to get out and stretch your legs, the Kohawks are going to have to play someone like St. Thomas or Bethel next week. Saturday probably won’t much resemble that.

Which team can alter its fortunes the most?
Ryan’s take: Centre.
The fortunes in question may be long-term. There were high expectations of the Colonels at the beginning of the season, but hiccups from the outset cast a lot of shadows over this team. The offense has just a few seniors in its ranks; the defense, though, is another story. Lots of starters will be graduating. Going up against 3-6 LaGrange, one of the best things Centre can do is make sure that younger defenders see some time on the field. Next year doesn’t have to be another middle-of-the-pack season.
Pat’s take: Hanover. There are a couple of good answers but I think the best ones in terms of playoff hopes come from the teams that could basically snipe a conference title here at the end of the season. Or snooker, as Keith referred to it on the podcast this week. We can’t say Hanover hasn’t been on the radar this season, because we did think they would take an incremental step forward this season, but this is a team that’s one step away. A win Saturday takes them from last year’s 3-7 to the playoffs.
Keith’s take: Trine. The Thunder could wrap up a 10-0 season and a likely first-round home game with a win over MIAA foe Albion. A loss to the Britons gives them the automatic bid, then sends Trine into the muck: The group of 10 or so one-loss teams who will be hoping their combination of strength of schedule and wins over regionally ranked opponents gets them an at-large bid. Trine has very little to go on there, so they either win and get in and maybe host the Hanover/Franklin winner, or finish an otherwise great season with a thud.