It’s that time of year again when every conference in Division III has entered their second season, the conference playoffs. While many of you may be wondering what the latest NCAA tournament projections are, first we must take a look at what is on the agenda for this weekend. So let’s take a moment and breakdown each conference tournament and see which teams have the best shot at pulling off upsets. I’ll also venture a guess as to who will emerge victorious and what players are poised for a great weekend.
For the first time in league history, a team not named Manhattanville (17-7-1) will host the conference playoffs. The team to beat this season is RIT (21-2-2) who is loaded with offensive firepower. Danielle Nagymarosi, a transfer from Manhattanville, leads the Tigers and the nation in points with 57. With the tournament taking place in Rochester, it is the Tiger’s title to lose as they have posted an 11-1-0 record at home. If there is one team that could pose a problem to the Tigers it is the team who has never lost a league title, the Valiants.
Predicted Winner: RIT
Predicted Tournament MVP: Karen Quigley – RIT
As the only conference to place three teams in the USCHO poll, you’ll be sure to find exciting hockey at the Stafford Ice Arena this weekend. The unbeaten Cardinals (23-0-2) look to keep their magical season alive as they host Elmira (18-4-3), Utica (18-4-3), and Neumann (10-12-1) for an ECAC West showdown. The most important game in this tournament however may not be the championship game on Sunday. If Plattsburgh does indeed take home the crown, Saturday’s contest between Elmira and Utica will have huge implications when it comes to selecting Pool C teams for the NCAA tournament. The winner of that game should be feeling pretty confident about their chances, regardless of what happens on Sunday. If there is a team that could ruin Plattsburgh’s near-perfect season, look no further than Utica or Elmira.
Predicted Winner: Plattsburgh
Predicted Tournament MVP: Danielle Blanchard – Plattsburgh
The top team in the west looks to capture yet another MIAC title this weekend. Gustavus Adolphus will take on a much improved Hamline team in the semifinals and St. Thomas will face St. Olaf. The Gusties are the clear cut favorite to take the title but with a loss to St. Thomas already this season, nothing is a guarantee. Look for the Gusties to win both games but don’t anticipate any blowouts.
Predicted Winner: Gustavus Adolphus
Predicted Tournament MVP: Molly Doyle – Gustavus Adolphus
If there is one tournament in which every team has a legitimate shot at the title, this one is it. Coincidentally, this is the only league without an automatic bid. Granted the top ranked team out of the NCHA will get the Pool B bid, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be the tourney winner. If there is a favorite to take the title, it is Wis.-Superior. The Yellowjackets host the Falcons, Pointers, and Foresters this weekend. If there is a tournament where the favorite doesn’t win, this will be it. My pick for the upset of the weekend, if you could call it that, is the Falcons to win the championship.
Predicted Winner: Wis.-River Falls
Predicted Tournament MVP: Amber Lindner – Wis.-River Falls-
What else can you say about the Panthers? The three-time defending National Champions once again host the NESCAC playoffs. The Panther’s better come to play though as all three teams are capable of unseating the host with a hot goalie and a couple ounces of luck. If the Panthers get by Hamilton, expect the winner of Bowdoin and Amherst to give them a run for their money. That said, I see the Panthers coming through with a couple more wins.
Predicted Winner: Middlebury
Predicted Tournament MVP: Abby Kurtz-Phelan – Middlebury
Bracketology Part III
With the NCAA field scheduled to be announced late Sunday night, let’s take one last look at what the tourney would look like today. Once again, here are the latest NCAA Rankings.
1. Gustavus Adolphus
3. Wisconsin-Stevens Point
4. Wisconsin-River Falls
5. Lake Forest
The only change from last week is Wis.-Stevens Point moving back in front of Wis.-River Falls.
For the sake of projecting the field, let’s assume that the favorites all win their conference playoffs. This means that the teams in the four conferences with automatic qualifiers are in the dance. These teams are:
ECAC East – RIT
ECAC West – Plattsburgh
MIAC – Gustavus Adolphus
NESCAC – Middlebury
Now let’s take a look at the Pool B berth. The Pool B spot goes to the top team in the NCHA since it is the only conference without an automatic bid. That team according to the NCAA rankings is Wisconsin-Superior. Therefore, the Yellowjackets once again are your Pool B team.
So far, the NCAA field looks like this:
ECAC East – RIT
ECAC West – Plattsburgh
MIAC – Gustavus Adolphus
NESCAC – Middlebury
Pool B – Wis.-Superior
With two slots left in the field, all other teams who have not made the tournament will now be compared against each other. The NCAA will then determine which two will be the last teams to go to the tournament.
The last two slots are your Pool C teams which is basically every team left in the country who has not yet received a bid.
The four teams under consideration are Elmira, Utica, Wis.-Stevens Point, and Wis.-River Falls. Now, let’s break it down to see which two teams will make the final cut.
Elmira beats Utica 3-1 based on the criteria. The one that stands out is Elmira’s 1-0-1 record against the Pioneers. Their meeting this weekend will be of great importance.
Elmira also takes care of both the Pointers and the Falcons as they beat both 2-0 in the criteria. That puts the Soaring Eagles in the NCAA’s with the final three teams vying for one last spot.
Utica and Wis.-Stevens Point both trump Wis.-River Falls in the criteria 2-0 and 3-0 respectively, eliminating the Falcons from contention.
That takes us down to two teams. The Pioneers and the Pointers.
Here is what USCHO’s PWR comparison looks like for these teams.
Utica vs Wis.-Stevens Point WIN 0.7800 1 0.7083 0 QOW 9.5600 0 9.8750 1 H2H 0- 0- 0 0 0- 0- 0 0 COP 0- 0- 0 0 0- 0- 0 0 RNK 1- 4- 2 0 4- 5- 2 1 ============================================ PTS 1 2
As you can see, the Pointers win the head to head 2-1. While the Pioneers have a huge advantage in winning percentage, the Pointers have more impressive wins and a better record versus the NCAA ranked teams. As a result, I am going to have to go with the Pointers yet again as the final team in the tournament.
Once again, with all the teams, selected, our field looks like this:
1- Gustavus Adolphus
3- Wis.-Stevens Point
This forms these Quarterfinal match-ups:
Gustavus Adolphus – BYE
Elmira @ Plattsburgh
RIT @ Middlebury
Wis.-Stevens Point @ Wis.-Superior
In previous column, I commented on how the selection committee would award Gustavus Adolphus the Bye and likely have Plattsburgh host the Frozen Four should they win their Quarterfinal game. There is one point I must bring up however. According to the Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championship Handbook, the site of the Frozen Four is to rotate geographic location when possible. Here is what the section on Site Selection reads:
The committee will review the following criteria when evaluating sites for NCAA championship competition [Bylaw 22.214.171.124.1]:
a. Quality and availability of the facility and other necessary accommodations;
b. Geographical location (including such factors as rotation of sites, weather, accessibility and transportation costs);
c. Seeding; and
d. Attendance history and revenue potential, which shall be considered necessary to assure fiscal responsibility.
This means that there is a chance that the committee could select Gustavus Adolphus as a host this year. If they indeed award the Gusties hosting rights, one must wonder why they did not do so last season. With two western teams in the Frozen Four, why did they not select the Gusties as the host team? With a still unbeaten Plattsburgh squad in the mix, it would be very hard for the committee to not choose them again as a host, especially considering in years past, the top team in the country has been given that right. While a rotation of sites is not only fair, but necessary, could the committee really reverse trend and deny a potentially undefeated team the right to host?
My prediction is that if Plattsburgh wins the ECAC West title, meaning they finish undefeated, they will host the Frozen Four if they make it past the Quarterfinals. A Plattsburgh loss this weekend could leave the door open for the committee to send the tourney out west. This makes the stakes for the games this weekend that much higher. When the committee meets Sunday night, all of this will be sorted and when all the decision are final, many players, coaches, and fans will be happy, and certainly a few will be very disappointed.
Good luck to all teams this weekend and see you all next week for a preview of the NCAA Quarterfinals!