D-III Bracketology, 2009

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again. The end of the regular season and the conference tournament scramble to qualify for the Big Dance. It’s time to play Bracketology.

As was the case last year, we know the criteria used by the NCAA Division III Men’s Committee to select and seed the teams, but not the weighting used in their evaluation. You can see what an equal weighting would look like using USCHO East, West and combined Pairwise Comparisons.

Starting last week, the NCAA has produced rankings based on the process it will use to select the Division III field. Using those rankings, let’s look at each eligible team’s chances of making the tournament.

The good news is that starting this season, there are now 11 teams invited: 6 Pool A teams, 1 Pool B Team, and 4 Pool C teams. Pool A consists of the six teams that will win playoff championships in leagues with an automatic qualifier: ECAC East, ECAC Northeast, NCHA, NESCAC, MIAC, and SUNYAC. A Pool B slot is reserved for an independent team or team from a conference that does not have an AQ: ECAC West and MCHA. Pool C bids will be handed out to the highest remaining teams according to the NCAA rankings.

The rub here is that there are East and West rankings, but not a combined one. So when the rubber hits the road, the committee will be combining the separate rankings on selection Sunday.

Here’s my guess as to where the teams still in the running stand:

A lock: Plattsburgh, UW-Superior. These teams can at most lose one more game, and are comfortably ahead in the key criteria. They’re in no matter what happens from here on out. They can also claim autobids if they win their respective conference tournaments. Elmira has the Pool B bid locked up.

Bet On It: St. Scholastica, Elmira. These teams fare well in most head-to-head matchups with other contenders. Elmira will win Pool B if it can claim the ECAC West, since it will have to go through the other Pool B conteners to do so. A loss by either St. Scholastica or Elmira still won’t be enough to push them out of an at-large berth.

Good Chance: Manhattanville, UW-Stout, Amherst, Hobart, Middlebury, St. Norbert – Amherst is ranked 2nd in the East by the NCAA, which makes me think the committee is looking at winning percentage and especially opponet’s winning percentage vs. common opponents and record against ranked teams.

On the Bubble: Norwich, Neumann- One of these teams might get in if they can win a another game or two and there aren’t upsets where a lower-ranked team can grab an AQ. Norwich can win its way in. Neumann I think should be ranked higher since it seems to win or tie pairwise matchups with the teams ahead of it: Norwich, Castleton and Oswego.

On the Outside: I just can’t see how these teams can get in via the at-large route. Castleton, Oswego, St. Olaf – Oswego wins the PRC matchups between the three teams.

Must Win Their AQ: Brockport, Geneseo, Augsburg, Hamline, Hamilton, Conn. College, Bowdoin, Tufts, Babson, Skidmore, Salem State, Mass-Boston, S. Maine, New England, St. Thomas, Gustavus Adolphus, Westfield State, Johnson & Wales, Fitchburg State, Mass-Dartmouth, Becker, Wentworth, Curry, Nichols. This list will be significantly shorter come Sunday.

Playing Out the String: Utica, Adrian, Marian, Lawrence, MSOE. These teams are from conferences that don’t have an AQ, so even if they win their league championship, it won’t raise them high enough in the criteria to get an at-large bid. Adrian, which isn’t even ranked in the West, is done in by its schedule, of which it has little control.

OK, so let’s take a shot at a possible bracket, assuming the team in first wins its respective league:

ECAC East: Norwich

ECAC Northeast: Nichols

MIAC: St. Olaf

NCHA: UW-Superior

NESCAC: Amherst

SUNYAC: Plattsburgh

Right now, Elmira gets pool B. Who gets the four Pool C bids? Right now I think it would comes down to these six: St. Scholastica, UW-Stout, Manhattanville, St. Norbert, Hobart, Middlebury.

Now, the big question, which will help determine the Pool C teams: Will we have a 6-5 split with two play-in games in the East and one in the West, or a 7-4 split and fly a team in the first and possibly the second round. I really can’t see an 8-3 split – it would be an injustice to leave either UW-Stout or St. Scholastica out.

    If it’s 6-5:

First Round (March 11)

St. Olaf at St. Norbert

Nichols at Elmira

Norwich at Manhattanville

Quarterfinals (March 14):

St. Olaf/St. Norbert at UW-Superior

UW-Stout at St. Scholastica

Nichols/Elmira at Plattsburgh

Norwich/Manhattanville at Amherst

    If it’s 7-4:

First Round (March 11)

St. Olaf at Elmira

Nichols at Manhattanville

Norwich at Middlebury

Quarterfinals (March 14):

Norwich/Middlebury at Plattsburgh

St. Olaf/Elmira at UW-Superior

Nichols/Manhattanville at Amherst

UW-Stout at St. Scholastica,

And, just because you never know:

    8-3 Split:

First Round (March 11)

Nichols at Manattanville

Norwich at Hobart

St. Olaf at St. Scholastica

Quarterfinals (March 14):

Norwich/Hobart at Plattsburgh

St. Olaf/St. Scholastica at UW-Superior

Nichols/Manhattanville at Amherst

Middlebury at Elmira

The picture will become clearer next week as the playoffs continue. Check back for updates.