November 11, 2012

Final playoff projection

Ohio Wesleyan has one loss but no significant wins, and an SOS that reflects that. Will that be enough to get the Battling Bishops in the playoffs?
OWU athletics photo by Mike Serbanoiu

By Pat Coleman
D3sports.com

Some things got easier on Saturday (thank you, Denison) and only a couple of things got more difficult. Here's how we think the playoff brackets should look.

This is a model of what the NCAA could do. It is based on who we think the NCAA should pick as the at-large teams. If you've watched the regional rankings closely, you may have noticed that the East and North committees rank their teams one way, while the West and South committees rank them differently. The national chair is the chair of the South committee, Old Dominion Athletic Conference commissioner Brad Bankston, and as such, we have emulated the South/West model. (It's the proper way to go, too. South and West have this correct.)

Keep in mind that the NCAA does not want to spring for more plane flights than it has to in the first round. This bracket could be done in one flight, or three flights to be perfectly fair. I've put out a bracket which has two flights, since the NCAA surprised us with one extra flight last year.

Here's how it looks.

First of all, we have to compile our own regional rankings in order to do this correctly. We have two new teams in the South, with F&M and Hardin-Simmons playing their way out. Washington and Jefferson clearly played its way in, and we took Randolph-Macon as well. The Yellow Jackets are 7-3 with a .507 strength of schedule (SOS) and are 1-2 against regionally ranked opponents with the win against Hampden-Sydney. H-SC was ranked two weeks ago and even though the Tigers finish 6-4, they still count as a regionally ranked opponent (RRO).

In the West, Willamette enters the rankings in place of Lake Forest, which lost to St. Norbert on Saturday. Also, the order of teams shuffles in every region. The at-large teams in the East, in order of our mock NCAA regional ranking: Rowan, Salve Regina, Lycoming, Bridgewater State, Endicott. North: Elmhurst, Heidelberg, Ohio Wesleyan, Wheaton. South: Louisiana College, Waynesburg, Huntingdon, Muhlenberg, Randolph-Macon. West: Pacific Lutheran, Bethel, Concordia-Moorhead, Willamette. Wesley is the Pool B team.

The committee's process has been in the past to take the top team from each regional ranking and compare the four of them side by side. Elmhurst is the easy first team to put in, as a 9-1 team with a .531 SOS, followed by Rowan, which has just one D-III loss. Heidelberg (only loss to Mount Union) follows, finishing off the easy picks.

Pacific Lutheran has two losses but a massive SOS. They are on the board against two-loss Salve Regina, one-loss Ohio Wesleyan and two-loss Louisiana College (SOS is 72 points higher than Waynesburg and Louisiana College also has a win against an RRO). I think Pacific Lutheran is a shoo-in here. Bethel replaces them on the board and also has a win against a RRO and a higher SOS than Louisiana College, so I put Bethel in.

Which one-loss team is least likely to get in?
Bridgewater State
Heidelberg
Ohio Wesleyan
Waynesburg

That leaves two spots. Now we have only one team who has beaten an RRO, and that's Louisiana College. Their SOS is only 33 points higher than 9-1 Ohio Wesleyan, but they also have the win against an RRO that Ohio Wesleyan lacks. In fact, Louisiana College is 1-2 against RROs, while Ohio Wesleyan is 0-1 (and that's against a former RRO at that, Wabash). Louisiana College has lost two games but they are to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the South, better than anyone OWU has played. So I put Louisiana College in the field.

Last spot: Left with 1-loss Ohio Wesleyan (.483 SOS, 0-1 vs. RRO), 1-loss Waynesburg (.441 SOS is the lowest on the board by a long shot, 0-1 vs. RRO), 2-loss Salve Regina (.509 SOS, 1-1 vs. RRO but that's because the East committee ranked four NEFC teams) and Concordia-Moorhead. Concordia-Moorhead has a .571 SOS, which blows the doors off anything else here. When you get to the end of the Pool C discussion, everything is in play, including the way you lost. Salve Regina's loss to 5-4 MIT is the worst loss on the board -- it's the only loss to an unranked team among these four teams. And the SOS, even though they went out and scheduled Union and Montclair State, just isn't high enough because Union is 6-4 and Montclair is 5-5. So although it still seems odd to have a third MIAC team, Concordia-Moorhead is the choice. Even anecdotally, the best win on Waynesburg's schedule is Thomas More and the best on OWU's schedule is Case Western Reserve at 6-4. 

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. We have a little of that but the NCAA could certainly take any of our groupings of four teams and swap them with any other if it wanted to spend more money on this bracket.

Mount Union bracket

No. 8 Christopher Newport at No. 1 Mount Union
No. 5 Rowan at No. 4 Salisbury

No. 7 Mount Ida at No. 2 Hobart
No. 6 Washington & Jefferson at No. 3 Widener

Christopher Newport almost made this easier for us by losing to Methodist on Saturday night. Now at 6-4, it's even easier to justify sending them to Alliance rather than sending Mount Ida. 

St. Thomas bracket

No. 8 St. Scholastica at No. 1 St. Thomas
No. 5 Bethel at No. 4 Coe

No. 7 North Central at No. 2 Concordia-Chicago
No. 6 Franklin at No. 3 Heidelberg

It was difficult to build a "North" bracket around a team in Minnesota, but not impossible. Last year not every team needed to be within 500 miles of the quarterfinal opponents and we definitely are building off of that. Bethel's superior SOS and results against regionally ranked opponents make them a better No. 5 seed than Franklin here.

Mary Hardin-Baylor bracket

No. 8 St. Norbert at No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor
No. 5 Washington and Lee at No. 4 Cortland State

No. 7 Framingham State at No. 2 Wesley
No. 6 Wittenberg at No. 3 Johns Hopkins

Louisiana College can drive to Mary Hardin-Baylor but we have different plans for them. The NCAA could choose to penny-pinch here and put Louisiana College at UMHB, but Louisiana College is our No. 5 seed and I am not willing to put No. 5 at No. 1 in the first round. Here winners have to fly to UMHB anyway, so I am not concerned about Cortland potentially being one of them.

Linfield bracket

No. 6 Pacific Lutheran at No. 1 Linfield
No. 5 Adrian at No. 4 Elmhurst

No. 8 Concordia-Moorhead at No. 2 UW-Oshkosh
No. 7 Louisiana College at No. 3 Cal Lutheran

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. This is where I put Louisiana College and I fly them to Cal Lutheran. 

The one-flight version of this bracket: Put Louisiana College at UMHB and send anyone to Cal Lutheran. (Perhaps that would be Concordia-Moorhead, with St. Norbert going to UW-Oshkosh.)

The three-flight version of this bracket: Put Louisiana College at Linfield, send Pacific Lutheran to Cal Lutheran and St. Norbert to UMHB.

This bracket is less flexible than the previous two projections, but I have taken away some of that flexibility because St. Thomas a top seed. Here's a look at the top seed candidates.

Remember that starting in 2011, it became permissible for the football committee to use the previous year's playoff results as a tiebreaker among unbeaten teams. This becomes relevant in breaking this year's teams down.

I see six legitimate candidates for top seeds:

Team Record* SOS* RRO Last year's playoffs
Mount Union 10-0 .524 beat North 4, North 8 Won four games
Mary Hardin-Baylor
 
9-0
 
.534
 
beat South 2, South 5
former South 10 
Won two games
 
Linfield
 
8-0
 
.612
 
beat West 4, West 6, West 10,
former South 10 
Won one game
 
St. Thomas 10-0 .544 beat West 7, West 8 Won three games
UW-Oshkosh 9-0 .528 beat West 9 DNP
Hobart 10-0 .498 None Lost in first round

* - in-region record and strength of schedule

Of those six teams, four beat multiple regionally ranked opponents, and four won games in the NCAA playoffs last year. Those should be our four top seeds.

Another possibility is that the national committee could choose to fix the North Region rankings, which are ranked by winning percentage first before any other factor, meaning no two-loss team could get in from the North ahead of Ohio Wesleyan. But even if Wheaton were on the board, its SOS is .517, which is nearly identical to Louisiana College's, and Wheaton has a loss to an unranked team in Albion. Moving Wheaton into OWU's place would not change the final decision.

On Sunday, shortly after 6 p.m. ET, we'll begin to learn what the NCAA decided to do. We'll have links on the site for you to watch the selection show.

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