November 8, 2012

Week 10 playoff projection

Bethel and Concordia-Moorhead each lost last week. Would they still make our field if the season ended today?
Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com 

By Pat Coleman
D3sports.com

Last week's results shuffled the regional rankings and they shuffle this projection as well.

For some of the toss-up leagues, it doesn't matter who wins in terms of our projection. That's because the runner-up is not a threat to make the playoffs and the two (or three) competitors would all have similar potential seeds.

Keep in mind that the NCAA does not want to spring for more plane flights than it has to in the first round. With four teams that must fly anywhere they go, that's a minimum of two flights. That's what I've projected. Any distance of more than 500 miles requires the NCAA to pay for a flight. Everything else can be done by bus.

Here's how it looks.

Wesley is the only team that has nothing to worry about this weekend. They're the only one-loss team in Pool B and that loss is to the top team in the region. And they're off in Week 11. Literally, nobody else has margin for error. Rowan's strength of schedule isn't very strong and the Profs have two losses, but one is to a Division II school, so they make our field as one of the seven at-large teams. Elmhurst has one overall loss and a win against a regionally ranked team, so they make it in. Heidelberg doesn't have the best strength of schedule, but we are running out of one-loss teams at this point. Of the two-loss teams on the board, Huntingdon has the second-best strength of schedule and a win against a regionally ranked team, putting them in the field. Pacific Lutheran is next -- the Lutes have two losses and both are to regionally ranked teams, plus they have a .625 strength of schedule. That's five teams in.

From here it gets difficult -- the remaining one-loss team on the board is Ohio Wesleyan, and, NCAC tiebreaker craziness aside, OWU has a .511 SOS and no wins against regionally ranked teams. Lycoming has two losses and no wins against regionally ranked teams, either. Louisiana College has two losses and a lower SOS than Lycoming. Bethel, however, has a .585 SOS, 74 points higher than Ohio Wesleyan, and that's significant. Plus they have results against regionally ranked teams, which OWU does not. Bethel gets in. The last spot is up between these four teams: Lycoming, Ohio Wesleyan, Louisiana College and Concordia-Moorhead. 

Lycoming is 7-2 in-region, with a .531 strength of schedule and is 0-1 against regionally ranked opponents (loss to East No. 2). 
Ohio Wesleyan is 8-1, with a .511 strength of schedue and is 0-1 against regionally ranked opponents.
Louisiana College is 5-2, with a .505 strength of schedule and is 0-2 against regionally ranked opponents (losses to South No. 1 and No. 2).
Concordia-Moorhead is 6-2, with a .604 strength of schedule, and is 0-2* against regionally ranked opponents (losses to West No. 3 and No. 6). Fans who have been paying attention all season know why there's an asterisk here, and who knows if it will be taken into account.

There is one one-loss team remaining here, but OWU has played just one regionally ranked team (now unranked in the North) and has a relatively low SOS. Concordia-Moorhead has an SOS that is 73 points higher than Lycoming and 93 points higher than Ohio Wesleyan. That is a statistically huge difference, and from everything we've been told, it's more than enough to overcome one loss. So Concordia-Moorhead still getting into the field after last week seems unusual, but it's possible. I feel the Cobbers have the best resume of this group, even without the asterisk.

I take those eight teams and the 24 automatic bids and break them into the best four groups of eight possible to create our brackets. With a potential of four teams in Minnesota, and one of those on the North Dakota border, the travel in the westernmost group is really difficult. That, and keeping the three MIAC teams from matching up in the first round made our Linfield bracket tricky.

Last year, remember, the NCAA threw us a wrinkle in the bracket, with shuffled pairings in the national quarterfinals. This bracket doesn't address that but as we get closer to Selection Sunday, I'll take a look at some of the more interesting possibilities.

Mount Union bracket

No. 8 USA South champ at No. 1 Mount Union
No. 5 Salisbury at No. 4 Cortland State

No. 7 ECFC champ at No. 2 Hobart
No. 6 Rowan at No. 3 Widener

The ECFC champ probably should be traveling to Mount Union but the distance is more than 500 miles. This way Hobart gets a team that really could be an eighth-seed even though it doesn't get a top seed in our projected bracket.

UW-Oshkosh bracket

No. 8 Concordia-Moorhead at No. 1 UW-Oshkosh
No. 5 Adrian at No. 4 Wittenberg

No. 7 Bethel at No. 2 Concordia-Chicago
No. 6 North Central (Ill.) at No. 3 Heidelberg

Either Adrian or Wittenberg can get to UW-Oshkosh for a second-round game in under 500 miles. (And if Concordia-Moorhead wins, that's not our problem -- the NCAA finance people only focus on the first round.) And this is a bracket where all four home teams could lose.

Mary Hardin-Baylor bracket

No. 8 St. Scholastica at No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor
No. 5 Franklin at No. 4 Waynesburg

No. 7 NEFC Champ at No. 2 Wesley
No. 6 Washington and Lee at No. 3 Johns Hopkins

We have five "island teams" and we can take care of them in the first round with just two flights. One of them is taking the lowest seeded team that's available and sending them to Mary Hardin-Baylor. The rest of this is fairly self-explanatory.

Linfield bracket

No. 7 Pacific Lutheran at No. 1 Linfield
No. 5 Huntingdon at No. 4 Cal Lutheran

No. 8 Lake Forest at No. 2 St. Thomas
No. 6 Coe at No. 3 Elmhurst

Back when the NCAA used to put seedings on the bracket, it used to be common to see shuffled numbers such as these. Those who are new to Division III may not have seen seedings before but they exist. 

Meanwhile, I'm not sure we need a second version of this bracket, because this is pretty true to the seedings. If the NCAA decides it needs to avoid the PLU-Linfield matchup in the first round, it could put Huntingdon on a charter flight to Linfield and Pacific Lutheran down to Cal Lutheran but that would be three flights instead of two.

Many teams are mobile in this bracket. Widener or Rowan or Salisbury could swap with Johns Hopkins or Washington and Lee fairly easily without causing too many travel issues. Losing Wabash from the field and adding Pacific Lutheran makes this easier to line up. 

None of this takes into account what might happen if Widener, Waynesburg or Cal Lutheran fail to clinch their automatic bid. Waynesburg, with a really low strength of schedule, is not guaranteed an at-large bid with one loss, while a two-loss Cal Lutheran would probably get in because of its head-to-head win against Pacific Lutheran.

We will do this one final time Saturday night, once we know all of the automatic bids.

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