November 6, 2015

Playoffs, rankings, and at-large berths

By Ryan Harmanis

Conference Championship Week

Conference championship week is here, which means three things: (1) rematches; and (2) titles; and (3) NCAA bracket predictions.

I believe it’s extremely difficult to play an opponent a second time, and even more difficult to win both games. Beyond the motivation to avenge an earlier loss, the thing to focus on is whether teams make adjustments. A coach once told me he prefers soccer to other sports because it’s the last “player’s game.” You can’t call a timeout to make adjustments, you can’t call specific plays from the sideline, and you can’t micromanage your team once the game starts. The players have ownership and must handle things themselves. That’s true, and it makes soccer great because teams must adjust on the fly with little or no input from coaches during the game.

But the second time two teams play, a coach does have the chance to make adjustments to specifically combat the other team’s strengths. Does Team X like to attack down the flanks? We’ll make sure we have cover and that our outside midfielders track back to double up. Does Team Y play the ball into the forward’s feet all the time? We’ll put a holding midfielder in the passing lanes. Does Team Z play a high line? We’ll play direct for the first ten minutes to either snatch a goal or get them to drop deeper. Bottom line, these games are unlikely to look like the first matchup—and might have very different outcomes.

The second fun part of this week is that dozens of teams will win championships. Considering only one team will ultimately win the national championship, this is most players’ best shot at a trophy during their college careers. So if you have that shot, take it, and enjoy it if you come out on top.

As for bracket predictions . . .

NCAA Regional Rankings – At-Large Predictions Coming Sunday

I’m not going to spend too much time on this because's annual at-large berth analysis and predictions article that we are working on will cover this in-depth. Having said that, a few things to keep in mind if you’re following the conference tournament results this weekend:

(1) If you’re on the bubble, you want strong teams to win the automatic bid (AQ) from one-team conferences. Every time one of these teams falls, somebody’s bubble bursts. It started over the weekend, as top-ranked Amherst fell in the NESCAC quarterfinals. And Wednesday was a bad day as well, with Thomas More, Wheaton (Ill.), and Macalester all losing and now needing Pool C bids to reach the big dance. This weekend, bubble teams are rooting for Loras, MIT, Middlebury, St. Lawrence, Lycoming, Milwaukee Engineering, and Elizabethtown, because by winning their conference tournaments those teams can leave at-large spots open for others.

(2) The stats listed in the current regional rankings are not the stats the committee uses to select Pool C teams. The committee will get an updated sheet that includes new winning percentage, strength-of-schedule, and wins versus ranked percentage (and remember, record-versus-ranked means against teams ranked this week). The upcoming at-large analysis and predictions column will update all of those numbers aside from strength-of-schedule, which is simply too hard to compute right now.

(3) The big thing to watch is that teams can play their way into or out of the tournament in the final week. Teams like Connecticut College or Bowdoin – who play each other, coincidentally – can state their case for a Pool C bid while also trying to win the AQ. Johns Hopkins gets a shot at the Mid-Atlantic’s top dog in Haverford. Chicago has a desperation game at home against Washington U. All of these games can change who gets into the big dance.

In my opinion, this year will be the most difficult to predict in ages, because so many teams have profiles that look very, very similar. My best advice to those teams still alive in the conference tournament? Win the AQ so you don’t have to worry about this.

Ryan’s Boxscore Top 10

I plan to go in-depth with my final regular-season Top 10 next week, but for now I’m going to do this NCAA Committee-style and put the rankings out with no explanation.

1. Kenyon (16-1-0, No. 1)

2. Montclair State (18-2-0, No. 7)

3. Calvin (19-0-1, No. 3)

4. Haverford (14-3-0, No. 12)

5. Trinity (Texas) (17-2-0, No. 2)

6. Amherst (14-1-1, No. 4)

7. Brandeis (15-2-1, No. 6)

8. Elizabethtown (17-1-1, No. 8)

9. Middlebury (13-2-1, No. 15)

10. MIT (15-1-1, No. 14)

Trending Up: Carnegie Mellon, Milwaukee Engineering, Dickinson, St. Lawrence

Trending Down: Thomas More, Macalester, Franklin and Marshall, Eastern Connecticut


Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Ryan Harmanis.

Ryan's Ruminations


Ryan's Ruminations will go beyond the box scores to offer analysis and opinion on major storylines around the country.  Ryan will provide in-depth analysis of the current season and insight into important aspects of Division III soccer, augmented by fun and compelling stories about players, coaches, teams, and games.



Ryan Harmanis

Ryan Harmanis played for Ohio Wesleyan from 2007 to 2010 where he was a three-year captain. Following graduation, Ryan continued to follow the D-III landscape before joining in 2013. He combines an analytical background with a passion for writing and the game of soccer. [see full bio]

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