For the past 10 years I’ve been picking the NCAA field prior to the official announcement, which should come in a few hours. And more than any other year, I am unsure of my picks. Why? Two reasons:
1. There are so many teams so close in the PWR. A single loss or win has moved teams five or six positions in the rankings.
2. The NCAA selection committee can weigh the criteria any way they chose, and from looking at their weekly rankings, there seems to be more subjectivity shown than in past years. Teams like MSOE and Bethel were ranked below where they would be using an equal application of the criteria, for example. In the case of Bethel, it looks like their forfeits were taken into account. MSOE’s weaker schedule looks like it pushed it down a position or two.
That said, let’s look at when we know first. Before we begin, you can get a quick summary of the criteria and the selection process by reading this. Ready? Here we go.
The automatic qualifiers go to:
ECAC East — Norwich
ECAC Northeast — Mass.-Dartmouth
NCHA — Wisconsin-Superior
NESCAC — Middlebury
MIAC — St. Olaf
SUNYAC — Geneseo
That leaves four more spots: One Pool B and three Pool C berths.
Pool B will go to Manhattanville, which was way out in front and wasn’t badly hurt by its semifinal loss to Utica in the ECAC West playoffs. The loss did cost the Valiants the top seed in the East, which now goes to Middlebury.
St. Norbert will easily grab one of the three pool C spots and should remain the top seed in the West.
That leaves two spots left. If you go strictly by the criteria with equal weight applied to each, then New England College gets one, closely followed by a three way tie for the final position between Hobart, Elmira and Oswego. Bowdoin and Wisconsin-River Falls are also in the mix, right behind these four.
The committee will most likely look at individual matchups between these six schools.
Let’s do that as well, and compare the six schools with each other:
New England College — NEC beats four of the other five, losing only to Hobart in a head-to-head matchup of the criteria.
Hobart — Beats everyone but Oswego.
Elmira — Beats Oswego and ties Bowdoin, loses to the rest.
Bowdoin — Beats River Falls and Oswego and ties Elmira; loses to the rest.
Wisconsin-River Falls — Beats only Elmira, loses to everyone else.
Oswego — Beats Hobart, just barely, edging out the Statesmen in common opponents and record against ranked teams. Oswego did win the head-to-head matchup as well. Also wins the matchup with Wisconsin-River Falls.
So we are stuck with some circular logic in terms of comparisons. If you break these down into “standings”, you get:
NEC: 4-1 (loses tiebreaker to Hobart)
UWRF: 1-4 (loses tiebreaker to Oswego)
Going by this, you have New England College and Hobart as the remaining to Pool C teams.
This is if you let a computer pick the teams, giving equal weighting to the criteria. It doesn’t take into account the fact that Elmira beat Hobart three out of four meetings or that the Soaring Eagles won the ECAC West title.
I am going to go out on a limb and say New England is in … and Elmira. Just a gut feeling that head-to-head play will be strongly considered. Elmira also had a better record than Hobart against ranked teams, another criterion that the NCAA likes.
If that’s the case, then the seedings would be:
1. St. Norbert
3. St. Olaf
So the first round games would be St. Olaf at Wisconsin-Superior and UMass-Dartmouth at Elmira … or maybe not. UMass-Dartmouth to Elmira is a long way for a first round Wednesday night game, just under 400 miles (the NCAA limit is 500 miles). The committee could elect to send Elmira to Geneseo, a mere 90 miles. Also, Geneseo and Elmira are very close in the criteria and could switch places.
Let’s assume they stick to the book and send UMass-Dartmouth to Elmira. The winner would play Middlebury, while the other quarterfinals would be St. Olaf/UWS at St. Norbert, Geneseo at Manhattanville and New England right back to Norwich, where it played this past weekend.
Of course, I could be, and probably am, wrong. I could see Hobart getting in over Elmira if the committee goes by the numbers, but that would be a hard pill to swallow for the Soaring Eagles, beating Hobart three times out of four including on the way to a title.
We’ll know in a few hours.