The Abegg projections

For some time now, Wash U graduate Patrick Abegg has been collecting data on Division III basketball, running his own computer rating and the like. In recent years his projections of the NCAA’s regional rankings have been impressively accurate. So, rather than duplicate his efforts, we’ve decided to recognize him as the Joe Lunardi of Division III.

From his rankings, we’re projecting out who the at-large men’s basketball candidates are, which conference leaders are currently upset proof (if they take one loss) and who’s on the bubble.

As a refresher, 60 teams make the NCAA Tournament in Division III men’s basketball, with 39 automatic bids, three Pool B bids for teams not in those conferences and 18 at-large bids (Pool C).

For the purposes of this projection, one team in each conference has to be the presumed automatic bid.

Who’s in?
These are teams that have clinched automatic bids
Washington University-St. Louis, UAA champion

Who’s safe?
These are teams that would get in even with a loss in the conference finals, no matter what. There can only really be nine locks if there are 18 at-large bids.
St. Thomas
Puget Sound
Franklin and Marshall
Worcester Polytech
Wheaton (Ill.)
Richard Stockton

Who’s next?
For each team above which wins its conference tournament and automatic bid, a team from this list joins the ranks of the safe.
Buena Vista
Farmingdale State
Rhode Island College
St. Lawrence
Bridgewater State
Trinity (Texas)

Pool B ranking

No other Pool B team appears in Abegg’s regional rankings, encompassing 82 teams. The next team would likely be Maryville (Tenn.).

Safe Pool C teams
These teams are relatively safe even with the one expected loss.
1. UW-Stevens Point
2. Hamilton
3. Mass-Dartmouth
4. UW-Platteville
5. John Carroll
6. Randolph-Macon
7. Centre
8. North Central
9. Salem State
10. Elmhurst

Pool C bubble teams
These teams need a lot of things to go right ahead of them.
11. Amherst
12. McDaniel
13. Carnegie Mellon (Note, no conference tournament.)
14. St. Joseph’s (L.I.)
15. William Paterson
16. Ohio Wesleyan
17. Mississippi College
18. Whitworth

A-begging to get in
Better win out.
19. Montclair State
20. Colby
21. Wesley
22. McMurry
23. Augustana
24. MIT
25. DePauw
26. Ohio Northern
27. Bowdoin
28. Brandeis (Note, no conference tournament.)

I’ve gotten questions about Cornell and Mary Hardin-Baylor this week. They stand at No. 30 and 36 on Abegg’s Pool C list.

All other conference leaders not listed need to win out, as currently projected.

Cinderella need not apply

As you read this some unheralded team out there is about to go on an incredible run that will land them in the NCAA tournament. They will enter the conference playoffs as a low seed, probably a seven or an eight. They’ll upset teams with much better records, riding their momentum to the conference championship, a net cutting ceremony and an automatic bid. As long as you’re not stuck playing the role of the ugly step sister, Cinderella makes for a nice story.

But in some conferences, Cinderella need not apply.

They send a smaller group to the playoffs and let them fight for the top prize. This is the last week for teams in those conferences to fight for a place in the conference playoffs, just so they can start the struggle over again in those playoffs. And that’s a pretty good story, too.

Here are a few races to watch as teams fight for the right to fight for the right to party on Selection Sunday.

CCIW men (Five teams alive for four spots): The regular season has been everything we hoped and there’s a good chance the ending will be just as exciting. Five teams are within two games of each other with two games remaining for all but Augustana. The Vikings won the last two tournaments, but only lead Carthage for the last playoff spot by half a game. The Red Men control their own destiny but have to beat Raymond-recharged Wheaton (Ill.) and Elmhurst. All those “buts” mean ours will be on the edge of our seats until the very end.

Liberty League women: (Five teams for three spots in a four team tournament): Complicated tiebreakers notwithstanding, Union appears to be the only team safely in. Rival RPI is in good shape, too. Then there are four other teams for two spots including three – St. Lawrence, William Smith and Hamilton – who have accounted for five NCAA tournament appearances in four years.

MAC Commonwealth (Five teams for two spots in a four team tournament): These teams have been tightly grouped together all year long. Preseason favorite Widener has already secured the top seed and Elizabethtown has a playoff spot. Everyone else besides Arcadia is still in the mix. Widener only lost twice in conference but it was against Leb Val and Lycoming who could both miss the playoffs, underlining how close these teams are.

The ultimate anti-Cinderella conference is the UAA. Its automatic bid goes to the regular season winner and there is no tourmanent. Washington U. locked up the men’s bid but the women’s side has intrigue left. The February 22nd game between Wash. U and Rochester feels like a de facto title game. But Chicago has games left against both and can still impact this race, even if its own title hopes are slim.

Delaware Valley's Jason Goldheimer And while Delaware Valley fits the Cinderella mold nicely, the Aggies are also fighting for a conference playoff spot. Kudos to new coach Casey Stitzel who has Del Val a game ahead of Alvernia (and two in front of two other teams) for the final slot in the MAC-Freedom playoffs. Last year Del Val was 3-22 and winless in conference. If the Aggies can hold their lead for seven more days, they will have their first postseason berth since 1969.