Missed at-large predictions and NCAA games to watch
NCAA At-Large Predictions: Where I Went Wrong
The committee announced 19 Pool C bids on Monday. I missed three teams I had on the right side of the bubble (Wheaton (Mass.), Williams, and Middlebury), one team I had on the wrong side of the bubble (Kean), and one team I missed completely (Dubuque). Here’s why:
(1) New England: Wheaton (Mass.), Williams, Middlebury. This miss was part me, part NCAA-selection process. I predicted—correctly—that Wheaton (Mass.) would jump in the final New England rankings. They did, all the way from 12th up to 6th. What I did not predict, however, is that the committee would not give Wheaton an at-large bid. I thought four ranked wins and a very high strength-of-schedule (SOS) would be enough, but it wasn’t. I’d guess that Wheaton’s seven losses and nine blemishes (and the resulting low winning percentage) were too much to overcome. And while the record-versus-ranked was great, it also means Wheaton lost five games to unranked teams. Considering only one Pool C team had more than five losses total, that poor record may have been the difference.
Then comes the NCAA selection process. The committee only considers the top team in each region as “on the board” for discussion. In other words, the 5th-ranked team in a region is not even considered for a Pool C bid until the 4th-ranked team has one. So while Williams and Middlebury had profiles that matched up favorably with many Pool C teams that got in—they have similar profiles to OWU, Washington U., etc.—they never even had a chance.
(2) Kean. As I reached the end of the night (around 1 a.m.) and tried to decide between those last few slots, I realized Kean had a profile that could earn a Pool C. Ultimately, I did not think Kean would jump Emory without playing a game, especially when Emory’s profile wasn’t going to change all that much. They did, and once Kean was up for discussion I’d guess they received one of the final bids.
The Kean-New England thing does raise one question in my mind: do the regional committees rank teams “strategically” to try to help their regions get more bids? If the New England coaches had known, for example, that Wheaton just had too many losses to get a Pool C, would they have kept them behind Williams and Middlebury? And did the South Atlantic coaches flip Emory and Kean because they thought Kean had a better shot at an at-large?
Such strategic ranking makes sense. A regional committee represents all teams in that region, just as your elected representatives go to Washington to represent your interests. It’s their job to set up the region to be as successful as possible. If Team X might deserve to be above Team Y, but Team Y has a much better chance of reaching the tournament, I understand putting Team Y ahead. I’m not advocating switching teams when it’s not deserved, but in a case like Kean and Emory, for example, when there is little to decide between the two, I think it’s the right move.
(3) Dubuque. The story here is threefold. First, I overlooked Dubuque’s win over Luther. Even though I predicted for other teams (Loras, Washington U.) that Luther would jump into the rankings, I missed that for Dubuque. That gave Dubuque a 2-1-0 recover-versus-ranked instead of a single ranked win.
Second, I overestimated Loras’s profile compared to Dubuque’s, despite Dubuque’s head-to-head win. Loras was ranked a few slots above Dubuque, and Dubuque lost 4-0 to Luther in the IIAC semis, while Loras won their semifinal before losing 4-3 to Dubuque in the final. The differences between Dubuque and Loras, in the end, were ranked wins and head-to-head. Yes, Loras had a much higher SOS. But when the two teams played, Dubuque came out on top. And the committee rewards high SOS, but only if you can beat those good teams on your schedule. Loras had six opportunities against ranked teams and came away with only one win.
Finally, even with that ranked win, Dubuque had one of the weaker Pool C profiles. Of all 28 “realistic” Pool C teams, Dubuque had an average winning percentage (13th out of 28), a terrible SOS (26th) and an average number of ranked wins. But when Dubuque was up for discussion, the top teams on the board from other regions were Wheaton (Mass.), Hobart, Johns Hopkins, Emory, Oberlin, Dominican, and Colorado College. If Wheaton (Mass.) couldn’t get in, Dubuque had the best profile.
Everything here is pure speculation, so take it with a grain of salt. Overall, though, I think the committee did a good job with the hand they were dealt. Few Pool C teams separated themselves, a result of favorites winning automatic bids and parity among the remaining teams. I feel for teams that were close, but unlike last year, I don’t see any specific cases where someone should have made the tournament for very obvious reasons and didn’t. So while I was wrong in many ways, I’m happy with the ultimate result.
NCAA Tournament: Games to Watch
I won’t be able to catch most of these games due to a combination of work and attending the USA-Mexico game in Columbus, Ohio tonight (dos a cero!). But check out the games below, and visit D3soccer.com for the full slate, as the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament always provides a marathon of good games.
Friday, November 11
11:00 AM: Ohio Wesleyan @ No. 19 Carnegie Mellon. I have a rooting interest here, but this is also the first game of the tournament. It’s a holiday, so if (like me) you have the day off, tune in to watch the Great Lakes region start the festivities.
1:30 PM: No. 6 Calvin vs. No. 9 Ohio Northern. Weak SOS for both these teams means we are lucky enough to watch a Top 10 matchup in the first round. These teams are mirror images of one another; both prioritize attack, both play on the ground, and both rely on their wingers running at defenders to score goals. ONU’s offense is a bit stronger, but the Polar Bears have not always shown the ability to balance attack and defense. Calvin, on the other hand, hasn’t played a tournament-level team since early September. Should be a good one.
7:30 PM: No. 20 Washington and Lee vs. St. Lawrence. W&L will still want to get the bad taste of the ODAC final out of their mouths, while SLU must be chomping at the bit after missing their conference tournament. Both teams play good soccer, and as the only night game, consider tuning into this on your computer while you watch USA-Mexico on TV.
Saturday, November 12
2:30 PM: St. Norbert vs. Luther. Although unranked, it’s tough to find two hotter teams that the Green Knights and the Norse. Both needed wins over their conference champs just to get here and delivered, and now they have a real chance to make a run.
3:30 PM: No. 23 Maryville (Tenn.) vs. No. 5 Kenyon. With Kenyon’s lofty rank, high seed, and perceived strength as a championship contender, you’d think the Lords would get a walkover in the first round. Not so. Maryville went 18-2-0 and has won 14 straight games, including a 6-1 shellacking of NCAA participant Centre, a team Kenyon only beat 1-0. Maryville is led by a pair of seniors, Caleb Lucas and Tim Baker, who combined for 34 goals and 26 assists, numbers that must give even a defense as good as Kenyon’s pause. I think Kenyon is a real threat to go all the way, but I also have them on upset alert tomorrow.
7:00 PM: No. 24 Montclair State vs. No. 7 Christopher Newport. Another Top 25 matchup featuring two of the hottest teams in the country. Since dropping a pair of games against NCAA teams Chapman and Lynchburg in September, Christopher Newport has been unbeatable, rolling through the CAC. Montclair State needed to beat Rutgers-Camden on the final day of the regular season and win a four-way tie for fourth in the NJAC just to make the conference tournament. Once they got there, though, Montclair was unstoppable, blanking No. 8 Rowan and No. 14 Rutgers-Newark on the road. These are heavyweight programs, and they’ll face off with Messiah looming on Sunday.
7:30 PM: No. 18 Springfield vs. Tufts. Springfield has been underrated all year, but the Pride just kept winning games en route to a record-setting season. Tufts, on the other hand, was maddeningly inconsistent in the NESCAC, part Jekyll (a 3-0 win over No. __ Amherst) and part Hyde (a 1-0 loss to last-place Wesleyan). The Jumbos ended the season with back-to-back losses, but have gone 8-1 in the last two NCAA tournaments, and will expect to advance. Springfield, on the other hand, gets a huge opportunity to prove they belong.
Sunday, November 13
These games are hypothetical match-ups, and reflect my predictions on who will advance tomorrow.
1:00 PM: No. 5 Kenyon @ No. 1 Lynchburg. Should both teams advance—far from a given—I expect this game to be a street fight. Both teams are battle-tested and both have realistic championship aspirations.
1:00 PM: No. 10 Mass-Boston @ No. 15 Haverford. Haverford finally hit the form I was expecting all year in the conference tournament, culminating in a strong 2-1 win over No. __ Franklin and Marshall. After last year’s crushing Elite Eight loss, the Fords will want to get back to the Sectional. To do so, though, they might need to beat a Mass-Boston team that seems to play better when challenged. The Beacons lost only once all season, in a 2-1 setback to Eastern Connecticut, but they reversed that with a 7-2 shellacking in the Little East tournament. Both teams like to attack and can score goals in bunches, and Haverford has an excellent online viewing production, so this is one you shouldn’t miss.
5:00 PM: No. 24 Montclair State OR No. 7 Christopher Newport @ No. 2 Messiah. I have no idea who wins Saturday’s CNU-Montclair game, but the winner will be fired up to face the Falcons on Sunday. Over the last decade, both Montclair (2007, 2008, 2010) and Christopher Newport (2008) have seen their hopes dashed by Messiah. While they’ll want another shot, the Falcons returned to the ranks of the elite after a one-year hiatus and have been firing on all cylinders. Messiah is also playing at home, where they won every single game in 2016.
6:00 PM: UW-Whitewater @ No. 21 Carthage. These teams have stayed under the radar, Carthage because the CCIW was down this year and Whitewater because they don’t have a conference or conference tournament. But I’ve watched both play, and both teams are good enough to beat anyone in the entire NCAA field. Back in September, Carthage won at Whitewater in an entertaining 2-1 game that had 40 shots. I’m hoping for more of the same if these two meet again on Sunday.
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Ryan Harmanis.