This Week in Division III: Feb. 24, 2005

Where It’s At

With just over two weeks to go before the conference finals are held and the NCAA field is announced, it’s time to take a look at where these games might be played. Every year there’s some controversy about facilities — last year it was Hobart in the ECAC West; this year it’s Trinity in the NESCAC.

Middlebury has hosted the previous five NESCAC championship semifinals and finals, but this year that honor is Trinity’s to lose. The Bantams are the regular season NESCAC champs and will host Tufts in the quarterfinals on Saturday. If Trinity wins, it’ll host the semifinals and finals on March 4 and 5. The Bantams use Kingswood-Oxford Rink in West Hartford, Conn., which is an older facility that doesn’t feature the comforts of most of the other on-campus rinks in the NESCAC.

This has led to some complaints, mostly from fans, that K-O isn’t suitable to hold a major Division III tournament like the NESCAC championships.

“It’s not the Taj Mahal they have at Middlebury. It’s not as fan-friendly as some of the other rinks, but it’s as good as most others from the player’s perspective,” said Trinity coach John Dunham. “We have plenty of locker room space and showers, more than at most places.”

Dunham really didn’t want to talk much about hosting the NESCAC championships, because his team has a challenging quarterfinal game with Tufts, with has knocked off the likes of Colby, Amherst, Hamilton and New England.

“Tufts is a very good team,” said Dunham. “Give Brian Murphy a couple of more years and they’ll be at the top of the standings. We’re taking nothing for granted.”

If Trinity does get to host, all will likely go well. With all the concerns about Hobart hosting the ECAC West finals last season (semi-enclosed rink; only three locker rooms), other than a few security issues due to a bigger crowd than expected, everything went fine.

Manhattanville has put in a bid to host an NCAA quarterfinal, but not the semifinals and finals. The same goes for Trinity and Oswego. Sources indicate that the usual suspects have put in bids for the finals: Middlebury, Norwich, Plattsburgh, RIT, Bowdoin, Colby, St. Norbert, St. Thomas, Wisconsin-Superior, and Wisconsin-River Falls.

One school that has put in a bid this year that has not always been able to is St. John’s. The Johnnies share ice with St. Could State at the National Hockey Center. “St. Cloud will be finished with home games by then,” said St. John’s Sports Information Director Michael Hemmesch. “We can have the facility all weekend.”

Utica would have been an excellent choice for the NCAA finals; after all, the “Aud” hosted the Division I Frozen Four back in 1962. But the Pioneers did not put in a bid to host the finals, and face a conflict if they host the ECAC West championships. If the games are in Utica, the semifinals will be Friday at their normal times (4:00 and 7:00), but the finals won’t be until Sunday at 1:00 due to the facility being booked all day Saturday. Manhattanville has worked out a potential conflict with the women’s ECAC East playoffs and can host games at the typical Friday and Saturday times.

Hopes and Dreams

Some team’s hopes for an NCAA berth were dashed last weekend, while
other schools kept their dreams alive. Here’s a quick look at what’s
up in each league:

Still Alive: The quarterfinals are Saturday, with Norwich looking to host the semis and finals for the seventh straight season — every year since the opening of Kreitzberg Arena
Projected Winner: Norwich
Dark Horse: Babson. The Beavers are ranked ahead of Norwich in the PWR and NCAA rankings.
Over and Done: Nobody yet.
NCAA Outlook : Up until last weekend, the Cadets looked like a lock to claim an at-large NCAA bid as insurance in case they get bounced in the ECAC Playoffs. But that’s now in jeopardy after a pair of home losses to Williams and Middlebury. It was the first time since Kreitzberg Arena opened in 1998 that the Cadets have been swept at home. That dropped Norwich from second to sixth in the NCAA East Region Rankings. Babson now stands a better chance at the at-large bid than Norwich. The remaining six Division III teams in the East have to win the championship to make the NCAA tournament.

ECAC Northeast
Still Alive: Curry is the top seed and hosts Framingham State on Saturday. The other quarterfinals matchups are Salve Regina at UMass-Dartmouth, Johnson & Wales at Wentworth and Fitchburg State at Plymouth State.
Projected Winner : Curry.
Dark Horse: Wentworth. If the top four seeds advance in the quarterfinals, the Leopards will get another shot at UMass-Dartmouth, who they lead 3-0 before losing 5-3 a couple of weeks ago. And Wentworth has matched up very well with Curry the last few times they’ve played.
Over and Done : Suffolk, Nichols, W. New England, Worcester State.
NCAA Outlook : No team is high enough in the rankings to claim an at-large bid. Only one team will come out of the ECAC Northeast.

Still Alive: There’s still a weekend left in the regular season. Manhattanville and Utica are battling for home ice. RIT has clinched third and Hobart and Elmira play on Friday for the last playoff spot.
Projected Winner : Manhattanville. The Valiants can lock up home ice with wins over Lebanon Valley and Utica this weekend. Manhattanville is at home for both games and has not lost on home ice this season.
Dark Horse: Utica. The Pioneers can host the playoffs with a win over Neumann and a win or a tie over Manhattanville.
Over and Done : Neumann and Lebanon Valley will play their final games of the season this weekend.
NCAA Outlook : A sweep by Manhattanville this weekend locks up an at-large bid. Utica must win the ECAC West to have a shot at a Pool B bid. Elmira, Hobart and RIT have no chance to make the NCAAs even if they win the ECAC West title. There’s no automatic bid for the ECAC West.

Still Alive: The championship series is this weekend with MSOE hosting Minnesota-Crookston.
Projected Winner : MSOE.
Dark Horse: Minn-Crookston. The Eagles were 2-11-1 before the holiday break; they’re 12-2-1 since. They’re also the two-time defending champs.
Over and Done : Finlandia, Lawrence, Northland, Marian
NCAA Outlook : No team from the MCHA will make the NCAA tournament. There’s no auto bid for the MCHA, and no team is high enough in the criteria for an at-large bid.

Still Alive: Going into the final weekend of the regular season, St. John’s and St. Thomas have clinched playoff spots, with Bethel, St. Olaf, Gustavus Adolphus, St. Mary’s and Augsburg fighting for the final three berths.
Projected Winner : St. John’s.
Dark Horse: Bethel. The Royals are the only team to knock off St. John’s this season.
Over and Done : Concordia and Hamline are eliminated and play their final games this weekend.
NCAA Outlook : St. John’s is looking good for an at-large bid. The Johnnies have finished the regular season and have one or two MIAC playoff games left before the nationals. They can at most lose one more game. St. Thomas would need a lot of help to get into the tournament any other way than by winning the MIAC. The rest absolutely have to win their way in.

Still Alive: St. Norbert hosts Lake Forest this weekend in one semifinal while Wisconsin-River Falls travels to Wisconsin-Superior for the other.
Projected Winner : St. Norbert.
Dark Horse: Wisconsin-Superior. If anyone can beat St. Norbert on home ice, it’s the YellowJackets.
Over and Done : St. Scholastica, Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Wisconsin-Stout.
NCAA Outlook : St. Norbert can lock up at least an at-large bid with a win on Saturday. The other three teams still alive in the NCHA need to win the title to advance.

Still Alive: Playoff begin this weekend with Tufts at Trinity, Hamilton at Middlebury, Amherst at Bowdoin and Williams at Colby.
Projected Winner : Trinity.
Dark Horse: Middlebury. How can you count the Panthers out? They always play their best hockey in February and March.
Over and Done : Conn College and Wesleyan.
NCAA Outlook : Trinity has the best chance at an at-large bid, but nothing’s guaranteed yet. If the Bantams can make it to the championship game and there aren’t upsets in other conferences, they should get in even if they lose.

Still Alive: Oswego hosts Plattsburgh in one semifinal while Geneseo has Fredonia.
Projected Winner : Oswego.
Dark Horse: Plattsburgh. I think the winner of that semifinal series also wins next weekend.
Over and Done : Brockport, Buffalo State, Cortland, Potsdam.
NCAA Outlook : Oswego’s outlook is about the same at Trinity’s – make it to the finals and hope for no other upsets. The other three teams need to win the title to advance.

Still Alive: The six Division II teams from the East square off, with the preliminary round this weekend. Franklin Pierce is at Assumption and Stonehill visits S. New Hampshire. The winners play at St. Anselm and St. Michael’s on Wednesday.
Projected Winner : St. Anselm
Dark Horse: St. S. New Hampshire. The Penmen are enjoying their best season in years at 15-6-3.
Over and Done : Nobody yet.
NCAA Outlook : There’s no NCAA Division II tournament, so this is the end of line.

Return of the Son of Bracketology

Our fourth installment offers little change, but an explanation from the NCAA.

If the season ended today, we’d have the following teams in the tournament:

ECAC East — Norwich
ECAC Northeast — Curry
MIAC — St. John’s
NCHA — St. Norbert
NESCAC — Trinity
SUNYAC — Oswego

Pool B:
Manhattanville — The Valiants are the top Pool B team in PWR, and win all individual comparisons with other teams under consideration.

Pool C:
Wisconsin-Superior — The YellowJackets are the highest team in the PWR not in first place, and win all individual comparisons with all other teams in Pool C.
Babson — This one is very close between Babson, Bowdoin and Middlebury. They all beat out St. Thomas, the next highest Western team.

Based on the national PWR and taking individual comparisons into
consideration, the pairings would be:

#3W Wisconsin-Superior at #2W St. John’s — The NCAA rankings have St. Norbert as the top team in the West, but the PWR has St. John’s leading in winning percentage and common opponents, with St. Norbert ahead in strength of schedule. The teams have identical records against ranked opponents. So why pick St.John’s Number Two? Because the NCAA doesn’t have to weigh everything evenly like the PWR.

“There’s no weighting in terms of a mathematical formula,” said Chris Schneider, Assistant Director of championships at the NCAA. “But we do look at significant differences in the criteria.”

In other words, unlike the PWR which awards a team 100% of the advantage in a category like Strength of Schedule or Winning Percentage based on a difference of as little as .0001, the NCAA looks at the size of the difference. In the case of St. Norbert and St. John’s, The Johnnies’ winning percentage is .0130 higher than the Green Knight’s, but St. Norbert’s SOS metric is .2448 higher than St. John’s. The other category that St. John’s currently wins is common opponents. St. John’s record is 12-1-2 (.867) against common opponents while St. Norbert’s is 9-1-2 (.833). Apparently, the committee thinks that the more significant difference in the SOS metrics outweighs St. John’s advantage in the other two. Using the Presidential election as an analogy, the NCAA uses popular vote while the PWR uses the all-or-nothing Electoral College.

There’s several things that can shift this one way or another. St. Thomas and Wisconsin-Superior are common opponents, and Wisconsin-River Falls, Wisconsin-Superior, St. Thomas, St. Olaf and Bethel are ranked teams, so the remaining games will be very significant.

Under this scenario, the winner of Wisconsin-Superior and St. John’s would play at #1W St. Norbert.

Other quarterfinals would be:
#6E Curry at #1E Manhattanville
#5E Babson at #2E Trinity
#4E Norwich at #3E Oswego

I’m putting Norwich ahead of Babson in the seedings, even though right now Babson is ahead on the PWR and NCAA rankings. I did this because the first assumption is that the conference regular season champ will win in the playoffs, and if that’s the case, the teams will be switched by then.

Counting Down

The following teams ended their seasons since my last column. Best wishes to the seniors:
ECAC Northeast: Nichols, Suffolk, W. New England, Worcester State
MCHA: Lawrence, Marian
NCHA: St. Scholastica, Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Wisconsin-Stout,
Wisconsin-Stevens Point
NESCAC: Conn College, Wesleyan
SUNYAC: Cortland, Potsdam

That makes 49 Division III teams still playing, with 18 teams having finished their seasons. After this weekend, 24 more teams will finish up, leaving just 25.

All seven Division II teams are still alive, but three will finish up this weekend.

Best of luck to everyone.

It Never Gets Old

I caught up with St. John’s coach John Harrington today — he returned my call from the Minneapolis airport on his way back from the Miracle On Ice 25th anniversary festivities at Lake Placid. I ask him how this celebration compared with the ones that had come before — the 20th anniversary, lighting the torch at the 2002 Olympics, the release of the movie “Miracle”, and now the 25th anniversary, which included the renaming of the historical rink to the Herb Brooks Arena.

I asked him, “Does it every get old?”

“Absolutely not,” said Harrington. “If anything, it gets more special as time goes by. You appreciate more and more how special it was, and how lucky and honored you are to have been a part of it.”

With St. John’s idle this weekend, Harrington gets watch his son play. Chris Harrington is a junior defenseman at Minnesota, which plays a home-and-away series with St. Cloud this weekend.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to see him play all year,” said Harrington. ‘I’ve seen him on tape a lot, but it’s great to be there in person.”

All in all, a pretty great week.