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.

8 thoughts on “Cinderella need not apply

  1. How about the Centennial Conference? Top five teams go and there’s a possibility that four of those five teams could wind up different from a year ago – and a very, very good possibility that at least three will.

    The current defending conference champions (Ursinus) are two games back of a spot with two games left. The preseason pick to win the conference (Gettysburg) needs a win against either the first or second place team in the league to control its own destiny in just making the playoffs.

    Meanwhile, the current third place team (Muhlenberg) started 1-3 in conference play, but have gone 9-3 since. The two teams tied for fifth (Haverford and Washington) started 2-6 and 1-5 in conference play, respectively, but are now both 8-8. Those two teams won a TOTAL of eight conference games a year ago (Haverford was 6-12, Washington 2-16). And, of course, the current second-place team (McDaniel) has won more games this year than any season in its history.

    The only thing “familiar” about the conference standings might be F&M in first place, but the Diplomats are coming off a couple down years and hadn’t made the conference playoffs in four years.

  2. WAC Sid:

    That’s a great race, too. Actually the Mid-Atlantic is full of them. The Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) has a big tournament (i.e. more than 5 teams) but it also has a winner-take-all title game on Saturday for the regular season crown.

  3. The ASC Women have a big tournament after this last week of regular season play.

    The ASC-West will host this year.

    Using Massey MOV ratings through February 15th, these are the top 8.

    #10 UT-Dallas (ASC-East)
    #13 Mississippi College (ASC-East)
    #32 McMurry (ASC-West)
    #36 Hardin-Simmons (ASC-West)
    #37 Howard Payne (ASC-West)
    #53 Louisiana College (ASC-East)
    #57 UT-Tyler (ASC-East)
    #71 Mary Hardin-Baylor (ASC-West)

    #110 Concordia-Texas (ASC-West) is still in the running for the 4th ASC-West berth.

    The ASC winner will have been battle-tested.

  4. Ralph:

    That tournament should be a lot of fun for men and women. The Conference seems deeper than in recent years with a lot of parity.

  5. Thanks for the comments, Gordon.

    You saw the support that we in the ASC have for women’s basketball when you came to Brownwood last spring for the Sectionals. There is an abundant amount of talent in this state and excellent coaching. Our out-of-conference wins this year included UT-Dallas and UT-Tyler splitting with St Benedict (MIAC) and UW-Platteville (WIAC), McMurry over Bates, HSU over Gettysburg and Babson, UMHB win over Southern Maine (and a loss to Baldwin-Wallace), and the conference going 10-4 versus the SCAC.

    There is incredible parity in the conference. In fact, we fans look the teams down here and think “this is ridiculous. You could make a entire Final Four out of that lower right bracket.” 🙂

    I think that Women’s D3 is working extremely well in Texas and the ASC, because there is talent that wants to play and go to school, with none of the hassles that one may get in scholarship ball and still get a good education. The ASC teams are getting D2 and D1 transfers every year.

    We have gotten some good coaches in the ASC, too.

    Louisiana College’s Janice Joseph-Richard (“Richard” is pronounced “French-style” e.g. Ri shard’) returned to her alma mater when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Coach Joseph-Richard was Western Athletic Conference COTY at San Jose State in 2002. (Catch her really great Hoopsville interview on Thursday Feb 5th! You can understand why she is so good!)

    New Concordia-Texas head coach Steven Cochran was an assistant under WashUStL’s Nancy Fahey during that fabulous 4 NCAA title run by the Bears. He knows how to coach at that level. Plus, he has a new campus. Concordia-Texas (CTX) sold its in-town campus just north of UT-Austin (the one that our friend Warren Thompson knew) and moved into the beautiful (former) Schlumberger headquarters on the west side of town. In fact, CTX lost to D-1 Texas State in OT this year.

    Howard Payne may have re-loaded with John Prock after last year’s national champion coach Chris Kielsmier moved back to Iowa.

    I think that there will be a good chance that the ASC Women’s tourney will be video-streamed and Live-statted on Friday Saturday and Sunday Feb 27th – Mar 1st. I hope that fans can check it out.

  6. It’s interesting, the relative merits of big tourney vs. small tourney. In a small tournament, you’re sparing your top seeds the strength of schedule hit from playing the eighth-place team, but also keeping teams from being able to go 2-1 in the tournament and not impact their W-L% as much.

  7. Delaware Valley lost tonight, but still clinched a playoff berth as Alvernia and Misericordia also lost. This is the only season the MAC-Freedom playoffs will have five bids. Next year they are back to four once Alvenia shifts from the MAC-Freedom to the MAC-Commonwealth. Whatever the circumstances, after a 40 year wait, the Aggies will take it.

    The MAC Commonwealth has a four team playoff this year and tonight we got clarity on who they will be. Widener and E-town will be joined by Albright (winners over Arcadia) and Messiah (winners over Lycoming). The Falcons are just 9-14 but 6-5 in conference. The teams still have to determine home court this weekend. Only Widener knows where they will be playing.

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