November 13, 2013

A pre-regional rankings primer

Today's the day when the second set of regional rankings are released, and as a primer, I thought I'd review a few things and take questions, since I've been getting a handful this week and Pat is on the road for his full-time job.

Angela Benefield Fischer photo

Before we discuss whether Rick Jackson and Wesley have a chance at making the playoffs, you should know who's making the decision.

If you're new to the playoff selection process, here's some reading, from basic to advanced, to get you up to speed:

The playoffs FAQ.

Last week's poll positions, explaining the regional ranking process.

The NCAA championships handbook (the same guide the committee follows)

• The Pool B and Pool C discussions on Before the pros work through the various scenarios, our die-hard users usually figure most of them out.

Now let's crunch some numbers.

The national committee

One thing from the handbook I wanted to call to the front. The NCAA selection committee is of the people, so to speak. They are not folks in Indianapolis who are unfamiliar with D-III. They are:

• Duey Naatz, UW-Stout athletic director (chair)

• Terry Horan, Concordia-Moorhead coach

• Chris Martin, CCIW commissioner

• Shannon Griffith, Manchester coach

• Mike Dunlevy, Averett coach

• Loren Dawson, Austin coach

• John Marzka, Albright coach

• Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, SUNY-Maritime coach

That's seven coaches and a commissioner, two from each region. Horan, Naatz, Dawson, Griffith, Marzka and Kendrick-Holmes were on the national committee last year; Martin and Dunlevy replace OAC commissioner Tim Gleason and ODAC commissioner and national chair Brad Bankston, and weren't even on the advisory committees.

Each group of two (i.e. Naatz and Horan in the West) head up the advisory subcommittees responsible for separately determining the rankings in each region. Each conference and independents are generally represented by one person on the subcommittee.

All that is to say one never knows how a national committee will interpret the published criteria. The committee has several jobs, and there is wiggle room in all of them; Selecting the eight teams in addition to the 24 automatic qualifiers, seeding the teams and making the matchups adhere to the bus-when-possible rule (The NCAA, not the schools, pick up travel costs for the playoffs, with a caveat: Instead of racking up costs flying 68-person travel contingents across the country, first-round opponents are to be within a 500-mile radius of one another when possible).

The rankings

The shifts from last week alone in the new set of rankings will tell us a lot. If after Illinois College's loss, the West rankings include St. John's, St. Thomas, Concordia-Moorhead and Wartburg at the bottom, in whatever order, it gives Bethel a boost, and a fourth game against regionally ranked opponents, ostensibly making it a No. 1 seed if it beats St. John's in Week 11.

Framingham State athletics photo

How fortunate that in Pool B, Melikke Van Alstyne and Framingham State have a common opponent with Wesley, who has common opponents with teams across the south.

In the East, suppose St. Lawrence drops out and either Endicott, Western Connecticut or Brockport State move in. (Yep, we're reaching down to two-loss teams with bad SoS numbers or three-loss teams). The first two are teams Framingham State has beaten, and the latter is a team Alfred beat.

The North rankings should shake up the most after Wabash, Heidelberg, Wheaton and Franklin all lost in Week 10. But with nobody in the north ready to move in -- Albion is the closest -- all those teams may remain ranked.

My Pool B picture

The regional rankings will tell us how to order teams by region; that can be a clue to where they will end up seeded, should they get in, but they won't look at the three separate pools as a whole. It's helpful to do so here because the 32 teams have to be selected before they can be seeded. 

Although we focus mostly on two or three of these, there are five primary playoff criteria: Record against regional opponents, strength of schedule, in-region head-to-head, results against in-region common opponents, and in-region results against regionally ranked opponents. There are also seven and a half secondary critieria, but let's keep it simple for now.

In Pool B, for three spots, here's what I see:

Team/criteria W-L H2H Common opponents
Millsaps 9-0

vs. Rhodes Week 11

Miss. Coll. (W 52-19),

Trinity (W 27-24);

B-SC (W 28-14)

Framingham State 8-1   Rowan (L 29-19)
1-1 (Rowan, W.Conn.)
Wesley 4-2, 7-2

Rowan (L 24-17);

B-SC (46-12)

0-2 (UMHB, Rowan) .678
Texas Lutheran 7-1  

Miss. Coll. (W 35-32);

Trinity (W 42-38)

Washington U. 7-2 Beat Rhodes, 10-7

0-1 (UW-W)

Rhodes 7-2 Loss to Wash U.; vs. Millsaps Week 11
Entire SAA in common with Millsaps; Centre with Wash U.; B-SC with Wesley (L 35-34)
















This is quite a twisted picture, but there's lots of data to work with; It's rare for teams from Massachusetts, Delaware, Texas, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee to have so many overlapping opponents, and it's huge here.

Millsaps plays Rhodes in Week 11. With a win, they're 10-0 and in the field. With a loss, it could get dicey, but let's for a second presume the Majors win. Framingham State finishes at 3-6 Worcester State, Wesley at home against winless provisional D-III member Alfred State, and Wash. U. at home against 6-3 Chicago.

If everybody wins, Millsaps' record makes it impossible to ignore. Framingham State and Wesley, meanwhile, have both the strength of schedule and games against regionally ranked opponents (I'm projecting Western Conn. as the 10th team in the East right now; if it were Endicott, it would mean the same thing). Wesley's SoS is not only No. 1 in the nation, it ridiculously outpaces No. 2 Alma's .609. Framingham State's SoS is 17th, or fourth among all teams in the playoff picture.

Wesley has a common opponent with Millsaps, and it's one it blew out; Millsaps also has a common-opponent edge over Texas Lutheran.

Wash. U. holds the head-to-head edge over Rhodes, which would need to beat Millsaps and have the Bears lose to get into the discussion.

In the end, Wesley going from Delaware to Texas to get blown out by UMHB instead of Texas Lutheran staying in Texas and facing the Cru might make all the difference. And if Wesley had found an easier opponent, surely it could be 8-1 instead of 7-2 right now.

I find it hard to put a two-loss team in before an unbeaten one, but Wesley has Millsaps topped in all other criteria. The Wolverines were also ahead of the Majors in last week's initial set of regional rankings. Framingham State stacks up well on SoS, the common Rowan loss with Wesley and the fact they might end up the only Pool B team with a win over an RRO.

One-loss record aside, Texas Lutheran doesn't have an advantage on anyone anywhere. Wash. U. stacks up well in the criteria, but would need a Rhodes win and perhaps some more help to get into the top 3.

My Pool C picture

Pool C looks fairly cut and dried. Here are the one-loss teams:

 Team/criteria  W-L  H2h CO  RRO  SOS
 John Carroll/Mount Union loser  9-0  
   1-1  .490/.475
 Pacific Lutheran  8-1      0-1  .553
 Illinois Wesleyan
     2-1  .502
 UW-Oshkosh/UW-Platteville winner
 8-1      1-1  .443/.455
 Wabash  8-1      0-1  .513
 Thomas More
 8-1      0-1  .470
 Illinois College
 8-1        .460
 Chapman  7-1        .428
 Greenville  9-1       .431
















The records above are current, while the RROs, in the case of JCU/UMU and UW-O/UW-P, are updated to reflect this coming week's game.

I think the first four teams in are easy. Idle Pacific Lutheran can't lose this weekend, and its SoS will remain strongest by far among Pool C contenders. Mount Union and John Carroll are already each at nine wins and gain a second result against an RRO by playing one another. Illinois Wesleyan is another no-brainer to me, if it beats Elmhurst. North Central, Wheaton and Hope all being regionally ranked last week give IWU more games against an RRO than anyone. At spot four, the winner of the WIAC second-place showdown will suffer from a bad SoS, but will have two results against RROs.

For the last spot, after Wabash's loss to Wittenberg and Thomas More's to Washington & Jefferson, each is 0-1 against RROs, but the Little Giants' SoS, even though it played likely-to-finish 5-5 Hanover, is far ahead of the others.

If the committee gets aggressive, a two-loss East team with a high SoS (the Alfred/St. John Fisher winner) should be on the table being discussed alongside Wabash, Thomas More and Illinois College. It's also possible a two-loss MIAC team is in the discussion from the West instead of Illinois College. St. John's would have to beat Bethel to be in the discussion, and its SoS of .568 and win against St. Thomas would be a very strong case for inclusion. If St. John's loses, St. Thomas gets to the board before Concordia-Moorhead because of last week's head-to-head win and otherwise comparable resumes. Willamette's .547 SoS will drop as they close out with Puget Sound, and the 0-2 mark against RROs won't be quite enough to leapfrog the MIAC two-loss teams.

Your questions

A question via e-mail from D.P. in Texas:

Does the TLU loss eliminate them, if not do you think they can get in with a final-game win?

Texas Lutheran is not eliminated by last week's 73-44 loss to Hardin-Simmons, but the Bulldogs need some help. When you look at the above chart of Pool B teams, there's really no case you can make for TLU leapfrogging anyone except Wesley, based on won-loss record alone. Wesley is a special case because as a national powerhouse and independent, it doesn't have the luxury of a conference schedule, and has to take games like the one it won on Saturday against inaugural-year FCS UNC Charlotte. The selection committee is likely wise enough to take that into account when considering Wesley's 4-2 record against in-region, D-III opponents.

I don't know that Wesley would have made the field ahead of an unbeaten Texas Lutheran. I know that TLU's unfinished game wouldn't have been a factor in the playoff discussion. The problem is the strength of schedule and lack of wins over anybody else in the regional rankings. The best bet is to hope for more than one team ahead to lose. A Millsaps loss to Rhodes alone still leaves the Majors with an advantage in SoS and in the common-opponent result against Mississippi College.

Standard disclaimer here: Technically, the brackets don't have to be region-oriented, the committee is just tasked with creating a Round 1 with the fewest possible flights. Recent committees had gotten hip to the loopholes and gave us brackets that matched up Linfield and Wesley in Round 2 and sent St. John Fisher and Hobart to St. Thomas in Round 3.

But mostly the brackets do fall along regional lines, and I understand what you're asking. It's completely up to the committee who shifts where. And I have no idea how much impact a few new faces on the committee will have on the final output. I think an effort is made to choose the four strongest teams and build brackets around them, but that's strongest by NCAA selection criteria, not top 25 poll.

Your question dovetails with this:

I don't think the JCU-UMU game has any impact at all on the West. Geographically -- remember, John Carroll is about 90 minutes north of Mount Union, in Cleveland -- they're the same. And whichever team wins is going to be 10-0 and probably be the center of the bracket that includes Hobart as well. As for whether UW-Whitewater stays in the West ...

I don't think Linfield, UW-Whitewater and Bethel should or would end up in the same bracket. Because the West and the North are so geographically close in D-III, the committee can build a bracket with Whitewater, Wis. or Arden Hills, Minn. as the centerpiece and still limit travel. North Central, driving distance to both Bethel and UW-W, could be in the top seed discussion as well, but ultimately, if the numbers are followed, I think Bethel and UW-Whitewater should be No. 1 seeds, along with Mary Hardin-Baylor and the Mount Union/John Carroll winner.

Oddly, if Linfield, Bethel and UW-Whitewater are split, it might weaken the "West" enough to keep the UW-O/UW-P winner at home for a first-round game. Ideally, it would be in an opposite bracket from UW-W so the teams don't have to play again unless there's no one else left standing. But any team in Pool C is just lucky to be in, so if Oshkosh or Platteville get sent on the road, it won't be far and there shouldn't be any complaints.

If the rankings break like I expect, I think Bethel, UW-Whitewater, UMHB and UMU/JCU winner are the No. 1 seeds. North Central, Linfield, Hobart and Johns Hopkins would have to round out the top eight for playoff purposes -- in the top 25, I'd have PLU, JCU/UMU loser or UW-Oshkosh in there.

I'd pair Bethel and Linfeld, UW-Whitewater and North Central, JCU/UMU and Hobart, and UMHB and JHU. I suppose one could make a case, if John Carroll were to win, for North Central as the North No. 1 and Mount Union as the 2, with JCU and Hobart together and the three West teams out West.

Or they could just do pods and mix the whole thing up, which is a blast. Frankly, the real shame is going to be Pacific Lutheran having to go to Linfield again in Round 1. The only way it can be avoided is if Millsaps went to UMHB (which seems like a tough draw for a 10-0 Majors team) and the SCIAC champ went to NWC country. But I digress.

A second set of questions largely centered around whether any two-loss teams have a chance. I examined 15 of them, including Waynesburg, Lake Forest, Methodist, Pacific and Benedictine, just to be thorough. I think there is some weakness among the one-loss teams for the fifth Pool C spot, but it would take a bold committee to leapfrog a 9-1 team with an 8-2. 

They are one of the few two-loss teams who has a chance. The Tommies need St. John's to lose, which shouldn't be any trouble to root for. That takes the Johnnies h2h loss out of the equation and adds in the h2h over Concordia-Moorhead. Wheaton has a .561 SoS but is 0-2 vs. RROs.

The Tommies have a chance, but not a good one. There are two-loss teams whose chances I like better, because of the mechanics of the selection process.


The Alfred-St. John Fisher winner is the two-loss team I like most for inclusion. Instead of discussing all the at-large candidates at one time, the advisory committees will do their final sets of regional rankings and pass them on to the national committee. They will then subtract all the automatic bid teams, and discuss one at-large team from each region. In effect, only four teams are "on the table" at any given time.

And while that doesn't mean any one region is weighted over another, it does mean if your team is behind another team in the regional rankings, the discussion about it doesn't even start until the team in front of you is put in the field.

Let's say at the end of Saturday, the highest ranked Pool C candidates are Illinois Wesleyan, UW-Oshkosh, St. John Fisher and Texas Lutheran, which went unselected in Pool B but is regionally ranked ahead of Thomas More. The Saints are in deep trouble, because they can't get on the board until TLU goes in. And if UW-O is the first in and PLU comes to the board, PLU can be the next team in.

Let's say the Pool C four are JCU, PLU, Alfred and Thomas More. JCU goes in and IWU gets to the board in the North. Then PLU goes in and Platteville comes to the board. IWU is the third team in. The board is now Wabash, UW-P, Alfred and Thomas More, and UW-P goes in. Then for your final spot, you compare Wabash, Alfred, Thomas More and either Illinois College from the west, or the highest remaining two-loss MIAC team. That could be an interesting discussion. Alfred, on the board the entire time, has had its credentials well discussed by this point. A high SoS, wins over regionally ranked opponents, well, it could be enough to sneak past the one-loss teams with SoS numbers near or below .500 and without a win over a RRO.

St. John Fisher's chances I like a little better than Alfred's because the win over W&J gives it an extra RRO, in addition to Ithaca and the Saxons, and the SoS number, currently a very good .568, is higher.

Nope. The SoS figures will be too low, and even though they'll have an 0-2 mark against RROs (which is better than 0-0), Wheaton (0-2, .561), St. Thomas (1-2, .537), St. John's, Concordia-Moorhead, the Alfred/St. John Fisher winner and perhaps even Willamette in line ahead. That's a winner keeps playing, loser turns in the pads game.

I'll monitor and respond to comments below best I can. Please feel free to further the discussion.

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Ryan Tipps

Ryan is's Senior Editor and begins as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011; has worked on all but one of the preseason Kickoff publications; has done game-day writing and photography and the pregame broadcast at the championship Stagg Bowl in Salem for almost a decade; and has taken photos at the Final Four for He's also on the selection staff for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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