It’s a midseason review. It’s a rest-of-season preview. Stop – you’re both right! Actually, it’s the second part of our 10 burning questions for 2010. Here is Part I.
South: Whom would you take to win the ODAC – No. 4 Randolph-Macon, No. 6 Guilford, or the field?
Whom you take might depend on what we mean by “win the ODAC” since the Conference tournament has been unkind to favorites recently. Last year the top three seeds lost in their first tournament game and Randolph-Macon in particular has struggled, losing its tournament opener each year since 2006. This year’s Yellow Jacket squad is on a small list of undefeated teams with wins over DeSales, Wooster and Williams when each of them was ranked. They have five players scoring double-digits and leader Danny Jones is playing just 18.0 minutes per game. Guilford has the pedigree of last year’s run to the final four and Preseason All Americans Tyler Sanborn and Clay Henson who have combined for 36.7 points and 15.9 rebounds per game through Sunday. This is more than a two horse race, though. Eastern Mennonite is undefeated against Division III teams after rolling past Hampden-Sydney on Saturday. Virginia Wesleyan won the ODAC tournament last year and already beat Guilford 71-68 at home. And if you’re looking for a reason to take the field, the Marlins’ Stephen Fields gives you a great reason to do so. He leads the ODAC in scoring with 20.5 points per game.
My two cents: Guilford in the regular season and “the field” in the tournament.
Great Lakes: Who should be more worried about its slow start – John Carroll, Wooster or Hope?
Making this list is a blessing and a curse. It’s an acknowledgment of high expectations, either because of last year’s success (JCU), a talented young roster (Wooster) or a great tradition (Hope). But all three have to improve to meet those expectations. No. 7 John Carroll started 6-0 before losing four of five, including a surprising loss at home to Medaille (whom the Blue Streaks beat by 11 in last year’s NCAA tournament) and a 22-point thumping at the hooves of the Bethany Bison. Worse yet, all four loses are regional and two of them in conference. Wooster also has four loses (including one to John Carroll) but three came to Top 25 teams (add St. Thomas and Randolph-Macon). Winning one of those would’ve been nice for confidence but the Scots are doing fine in conference play at 3-0. Hope is an enigma (sound pretty philosophical, doesn’t it?) unless you have a good handle on the local NAIA teams on the schedule. If Olivet (5-6) could beat NAIA Spring Arbor at home, why didn’t Hope? The Flying Dutch are 7-4 over all with an impressive 22-point win over Wheaton (Ill.) and an early non-conference victory over archrival Calvin. Speaking of which, the Knights and Flying Dutch will meet again to start MIAA play this Wednesday, January 6.
My two cents: John Carroll since the OAC is a tougher road to hoe than the NCAC or the MIAA.
Midwest: Can the Illinois Wesleyan women run the table to the final four?
For the third straight year, the school hosting the women’s final four is also a strong contender to play for a national championship on its own floor. Hope had two cracks and fell one game short at Howard Payne in 2008 and against George Fox at Thomas More in 2009. The Titans had disappointment of their own in the 2009 tournament, seeing their season – undefeated and otherwise – end against Washington U last March. IWU exercised those ghosts in November but, given the importance of geographic proximity in the national tournament and the possibility for the Bears to pick up some loses in UAA play, Wash U. and IWU could meet again this year. IWU has the two main ingredients of recent national champions – a star player who can carry the team (Christina Solari) and a deep roster so she won’t have to do that very often. The biggest obstacle to another perfect regular season is Carthage, which is also undefeated against Division III. Circle the matchups between the Titans and Lady Reds (in Bloomington this Saturday and in Kenosha on January 30th) as the two biggest tests.
My two cents: The Titans can and they will.
West: What are George Fox’s chances to repeat?
George Fox has a strikingly similar poll position this season as it did last season. In January 2009 the Bruins were undefeated but slotted at No. 14. This year they are No. 16 with an 8-2 record and losses to Cal Lutheran (7-2) and NAIA Lewis-Clark State, which is 5-0 against NWC teams. If nothing else, this shows the respect that the pollsters have for the Bruins – 8-2 would have probably left them unranked a season ago. George Fox got off to a great start, defeating Puget Sound 65-62 in overtime on Saturday. The Loggers were picked second in the NWC preseason coaches poll. Two key pieces of last year’s championship, center and defensive anchor Kristen Shielee and national freshman of the year Sage Indendi, are gone. Six-foot-five freshman Hannah Munger is now the Bruins center, replacing Breezy Rinehart-Young in the starting lineup. Munger has 28 blocks in the last six games, which is a good sign. Indendi’s departure puts more pressure on fellow former fab frosh Keisha Gordon who has boosted her scoring output from 12.4 to 15.8 points per game so far. The Bruins aren’t the obvious pick to win the national championship, but they weren’t last year either.
My two cents: The Bruins will miss Shielee’s calming presence but don’t count them out.
Multi: Can a team from a “non-power conference” make a run to the Final Four?
Defining the power conferences in Division III is tough, so let’s use the following very rough rule of thumb – any conference that doesn’t have at least four tournament wins combined in the last three years is a non-power conference. On the women’s side, that kind of run is unlikely. The gap between the top teams in the tournament and the rest often translates into double-digit margins of victory for the former group. And the distribution of the really good teams is pretty even. As for the men, this question presumes the regional approach to bracketing continues. There have been some very surprising results in the middle of the country (Medaille over JCU; Northwestern (Minn.) over St. Norbert). But it’s tough to envision a team from the AMCC, UMAC or NathCON stringing together four consecutive big upsets. But in the East, Atlantic or Mid-Atlantic, it’s another story. Maybe the CSAC, Empire 8, Liberty League or Landmark champion gets hot at the right time and rides that all the way to Salem.
My two cents: Depends on what kind of bracket we get on the men’s side.