Countdown from Thirteen
The Guessing Game: Which Team is most likely to Finish Undefeated?
Unfortunately, a combination of technical problems and real world commitments prevented me from completing the research for part two of my three-part series on conference strength. Next week, I’ll have updated and finalized tables on NCAA success for the last ten seasons, some head-to-head conference numbers from this year, and my personal views on how to evaluate the strength of a conference. Then, as conference play reaches its midpoint, I’ll close by ranking the top conferences in the country this season.
For now, I decided to have some fun and look at which of the thirteen remaining undefeated men's teams is most likely to finish the regular season, including conference tournaments, without a loss.* That’s right, there are only thirteen unbeaten—and five unblemished—teams remaining. Here they are, in order of D3soccer.com Top 25 ranking (then alphabetically), along with their most difficult remaining games:
Bottom line, I would expect no more than three undefeated teams entering the conference tournament. My best bets: Christopher Newport, Whitworth, and Calvin.
|Probability of Finishing Undefeated
(10 = Very High; 1 = Very Low)
|No. 1 Kenyon
@ Ohio Wesleyan (7-2-2)
|3/10 – Kenyon is capable, but I think it’s unlikely that any team makes it through the NCAC regular season and tournament without a loss. That’s only happened once since 2010, and the conference is stronger than ever.|
|No. 2 Franklin & Marshall
|@ Haverford (6-3-0)
@ Gettysburg (7-1-1)
|4/10 – I don’t think the Centennial is quite as deep as the NCAC, but F&M will have gone nearly a month with cupcakes before running the gauntlet in late October.|
|No. 4 Christopher Newport
|Frostburg State (7-2-0)
@ Mary Wash. (7-3-0)
|5/10 – I have a sneaking suspicion the CAC is down this year, and the Captains get their two toughest remaining games (and presumably the conference tournament) at home.|
|No. 5 Amherst
Connecticut Col. (6-2-0)
|3/10 – Similar to Kenyon, this does not reflect a lack of faith in Amherst, but rather trust in the gauntlet that is the NESCAC. On top of tough remaining games, the NESCAC tournament requires three additional wins.|
|No. 8 Whitworth
|@ Pacific Lutheran (7-3-0)
@ Puget Sound (5-4-0)
|8/10 – No conference tournament makes things easier, although it’s often difficult to beat a team twice in one season. But Whitworth has already beaten all three teams, and only Pacific Lutheran kept things close.|
|No. 9 RPI
@ St. Lawrence (7-1-2)
@ Skidmore (5-2-0)
|2/10 – I’d call RPI-St. Lawrence a toss-up, and when you throw in the strength of the Liberty League and an out-of-conference visit from Williams, I think it’s going to be difficult for the Engineers to avoid a slip.|
|No. 12 Calvin
@ Kalamazoo (5-3-1)
|6/10 – I think Calvin is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the MIAA. However, to win the conference tournament Calvin would to beat multiple teams three times. I think they’ll probably do it, but it will be tough.|
|No. 13 Denison
|@ Kenyon (8-0-0)
|1/10 – I just think it’s too much to ask for the Big Red to survive a trip to Kenyon, the rest of the NCAC, and potential rematches with the Lords and OWU in the conference tournament.|
|@ Manhattanville (5-3-1)
@ King’s (8-2-0)
|5/10 – On paper, the Eagles have one of the easiest remaining schedules. I don’t know much about them, but wins over Lycoming (9-1-1) and Salisbury (6-3-0) seem legitimate|
|Penn College (5-6-0)
@ PSU-Albington (5-3-0)
Morrisville State (5-2-1)
|3/10 – On one hand, Keuka only has two teams above .500 left on the schedule. On the other, the Storm barely survived multiple below-.500 teams already. Morrisville State seems to have their number.|
|St. John’s (7-1-2)
St. Thomas (7-1-2)
|1/10 – While Macalester is undefeated, they’ve barely won more than half of their games. And beyond these three games, they also have to face conference-leading St. Olaf (5-4-0, 4-0-0).|
|@ Babson (5-3-1)
Eastern Conn. (8-1-1)
|3/10 – The conference seems easy with the exception of Eastern Connecticut, but Mass-Boston will enter that game an underdog. Throw in tough out-of-conference games, and a loss seems likely.|
@ La Verne (9-2-0)
@ Redlands (6-2-2)
|4/10 – Every SCIAC champ has had at least two losses since 2011. While I’d favor the Tigers in every remaining game, going undefeated will be a tall order.|
Requesting Off-Field Stories and Feedback
I view this column as a great opportunity to put a spotlight on stories that the Division III soccer world in general might not otherwise hear about. Division III soccer players are truly student-athletes and we all wear that label with pride. With that in mind, if you are aware of an off-field story about a player, team, or coach that you find inspirational and would like to share, please send me an e-mail.
Similarly, if you have feedback or comments, feel free to pass those along as well. I am very new to this, and writing a column is much different than legal writing, so ideas on how to improve the column are welcome.
Ryan’s Boxscore Top 10
Finally, some semblance of stability. Only one team in last week’s Top 10 lost in the interim, and to another Top 10 member. No change in membership, only in the pecking order
1. Kenyon (8-0-0, D3soccer.com No. 1) – Congratulations to the Lords on achieving the top spot, which according to their website is the school’s first since 1993. Unfortunately, we were deprived of the opportunity to watch Kenyon face off with a streaking Case Western (8-1-0) due to poor field conditions. We won’t have to wait long to see if Kenyon can handle the pressure of the top spot, as the Lords take on DePauw (6-1-2) tomorrow afternoon.
2. Franklin and Marshall (10-0-0, No. 2) – Solid (if unspectacular) wins from the Diplomats in the last week. Okay, okay, I copied that directly from last week’s column, but F&M once again grinded out two one-goal wins against below-average teams. While I’m waiting to comment on the Diplomats’ postseason potential until they see some real competition to close the Centennial slate, that strong win over Elizabethtown (8-1-1, No. 19) looks pretty good right now.
3. Brandeis (7-1-0, No. 3) – While it’s disappointing to match up exactly with the D3soccer.com top three, the Judges earned this one by knocking off the defending champions. Brandeis did well to avoid a letdown against Wheaton (Mass.) (7-4-0), but I do wonder just how many one-goal games the Judges can continue to pull out. The UAA offers very few breathers, and Carnegie Mellon (7-1-1, No. 7) comes to town tomorrow.
4. Amherst (7-0-0, No. 5) – Thanks to Brandeis (and Wesleyan), Amherst is now the only unblemished team in the NESCAC and has an early lead in conference play. It might be early to call tomorrow’s showdown with Tufts a title-decider, but if the Lord Jeffs win, I have a hard time seeing anyone catching them in the regular season.
5. Whitworth (8-0-0, No. 8) – The Pirates validated their lofty ranking with two big shutout wins against their toughest opponents to date. Whitworth handled Puget Sound (5-4-0) easily in a comprehensive 2-0 game, and then scored just three minutes into a 1-0 victory over Pacific Lutheran (7-3-0). Those wins carry extra weight, because the NWC awards its automatic NCAA bid to the regular season champion. Right now, the Pirates are in the driver’s seat, and they probably won’t be tested again until a rematch with Pacific Lutheran on October 24.
6. Rutgers-Camden (7-1-1, No. 17) – While they may be the lowest-ranked team in this Top 10, few teams are playing as well as Rutgers-Camden right now. Rowan (8-2-0, No. 25) had been on a roll, blowing away Messiah and absolutely drilling Rutgers-Newark (9-3-0) before the Raptors stoned them Wednesday evening in a 1-0 game. Although Montclair State (10-1-0, No. 10) looms in two weeks’ time, Camden needs to stay focused as they visit a surprising Kean squad (10-1-0) tomorrow.
7. Calvin (7-0-1, No. 12) – An odd week for the Knights. First, Calvin posted a sloppy 2-1 win over Olivet (1-10-0), giving up their third goal on the season (the horror) in the process. Whatever Coach Souders had to say on Calvin’s day off must have hit home, because the Knights turned around and held Adrian (4-5-1) without a single shot in an easy 3-0 win. Tomorrow Kalamazoo (5-3-1) comes to town with first place in the MIAA on the line. Calvin kept Kalamazoo out of the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tournament on penalty kicks last year, so I’d expect emotions to run high in this one.
8. RPI (8-0-1, No. 9) – A slight bump for the Engineers with a tough 1-1 draw at Babson (5-3-1). I still put a lot of stock in RPI’s win over Oneonta State (6-2-1, No. 21), but we’ll find out just how good the Engineers are in the next two weeks. St. Lawrence seems to have steadied after a brief slump, and we’re exactly two weeks away from the marquee game in the Liberty League this year. In the meantime, Hobart (6-1-1) quietly comes to town on the back of some good results and should offer a stern test.
9. Tufts (5-1-1, No. 6) – Cracks in the armor? No shame in dropping a tight one to Brandeis, especially considering the Jumbos carried much of the play, but Tufts was shut out again in a tight 0-0 draw with Wesleyan (4-2-1). I’ll be honest and say I have Tufts here mostly on reputation and the fact that the result against Brandeis looks a little harsh on Tufts. But if Tufts deserves to be up here we’ll find out very quickly—Amherst is as good a measuring stick as there is right now.
10. Denison (8-0-1, No. 13) – Denison took an early lead and held on late for a solid 1-1 draw again OWU (7-2-2) last Saturday. According to inside sources (my parents), the Big Red played very well in front of an incredible crowd and proved their record is no fluke. While others (Christopher Newport, Carnegie Mellon) are closing in on the Top 10, Denison has two weeks to tune up and avoid mistakes before traveling to top-ranked Kenyon.
Trending Up: Elizabethtown, St. Lawrence, UW-Oshkosh, Eastern
Trending Down: Messiah, Loras, Salisbury, Tufts
* Note that teams can finish undefeated even without winning their conference tournament if they are knocked out in penalty kicks. The general rule is that when a game goes to penalties, the result is a draw, and the winning team advances on penalty kicks. The lone exception is the NCAA championship game, where a penalty kick “loss” actually counts as a loss on your record.
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Ryan Harmanis.