2012 men's tournament preview

By Pat Coleman
Executive Editor, D3sports.com

Last year's Whitworth tournament run was fueled by a one-season player. Will Idris Lasisi repeat the feat?
Whitworth athletics photo

This is our annual NCAA Tournament preview, where we take each bracket, we pick a surprise team that can win two games away from home to reach the Sweet 16 and a disappointment that won’t live up to the hype, either losing at home or to a lower seed.

And we ended up with a pretty good bracket. Some decent spread of talent, a continued effort to shuffle up four-team pods to mix teams up and hey, No. 1, 2, 4 and 6 could meet in the Final Four.

If you’re new to Division III, it used to be a lot worse.

Let’s get on with the preview.

The Cabrini bracket

Castleton State (19-9) at Cabrini (26-1); Hobart (22-5) vs. Ohio Wesleyan (20-7)
Endicott (20-8) at Oswego State (25-3); Eastern Connecticut (22-5) vs. Medaille (25-2)
Morrisville State (19-8) at Middlebury (24-3); Albertus Magnus (27-1) vs. St. Joseph’s, L.I. (21-4)
Becker (23-4) at William Paterson (24-3); Scranton (20-7) vs. Messiah (20-6)

The big question: Who will exorcise the demons? The last time William Paterson was in the NCAA Tournament, the Pioneers lost in the first round on a buzzer beater by Albertus Magnus, while Oswego State lost at home in the second round last year against Rhode Island College. Each of them has a chance to put that behind them this weekend.

The best 8-9 game: Hobart-Ohio Wesleyan. These are two relatively young teams but coached by veteran coaches. Hobart starts just two seniors, Ohio Wesleyan one. The Statesmen have a new but veteran coach in Mike Neer, who led Rochester to 563 career wins and four Final Fours before retiring for a season. He returned to coaching this season. Mike DeWitt’s Battling Bishops are led by Tim Brady’s 22.6 points per game.

What do we make of this game? Albertus Magnus-St. Joseph’s (L.I.). It does seem likely this would be a track meet, and in such a situation Ray Askew of Albertus Magnus would certainly excel. But in a shootout, and on a neutral floor, anything could happen.

Most likely to disappoint: Cabrini. The bar has been set so high for the Cavaliers that it would be nearly impossible to live up to. The NCAA appears to have put them in the spot on the bracket reserved for the No. 1 seed, and that’s a lot to measure up to.

Surprise: Eastern Connecticut. It’s with the thought that Rhode Island College, one of last year’s surprises, is in the same conference as Eastern Connecticut and since the Little East didn’t get to host any games, perhaps the teams might show the committee why they disagree. But Rhode Island College had been to the tournament before. For Eastern Connecticut, it’s the first trip since 2000.

Champion: Middlebury.

The Hope bracket

Buena Vista (17-10) at Washington U. (19-6); North Central, Ill. (20-7) vs. Rose-Hulman (20-8)
Carroll (16-9) at Transylvania (23-4); Wittenberg (21-6) vs. Birmingham-Southern (25-2)
Maryville (18-9) at Wooster (24-4); Randolph-Macon (21-6) vs. Capital (18-9)
Westminster, Mo. (17-10) at Hope (26-1); UW-Stevens Point (20-7) vs. Illinois Wesleyan (19-7)

The big question: How good is Hope? Good enough to get through the first weekend, one would think, unless Illinois Wesleyan or UW-Stevens Point channel their 2004 selves. But are the Flying Dutchmen national champion good or just Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16 good? We’ll begin to find out this weekend.

The best 8-9 game: UW-Stevens Point vs. Illinois Wesleyan, hands down. Two storied programs, for sure, neither playing at their peak, but seemingly capable of putting together a run with a little confidence.

What do we make of this game? Wittenberg vs. Birmingham-Southern. BSC has essentially lost to the best team it’s played, twice at that. The Panthers didn’t do well in the one-and-done situation they were in at the SCAC tournament and this will be another experience altogether. And not in their home gym.

Most likely to disappoint: Washington U. Of the four top seeds, the Bears seem most likely to lose to a team ranked lower than them.

Surprise: Against any of the other top seeds, I’d think the UWSP-IWU winner could surprise. But I’m not sure there’s a win-two-games-away-from-home team here. Wittenberg should be hosting rather than Transylvania, for example, as they’re the best team in that pod. Would that qualify as a surprise?

Champion: Hope.

The Amherst bracket

Misericordia (21-6) at NYU (20-5), winner to Amherst (25-2)
York, Pa. (18-10) at Franklin and Marshall (25-2); Western Connecticut (20-6) vs. Christopher Newport (23-4)
Farmingdale State (22-5) at Hartwick (23-3); MIT (25-1) vs. Skidmore (19-8)
Ithaca (14-13) at Staten Island (24-4); Rhode Island College (22-6) vs. Salem State (20-7)

The big question: Who will guard DaQuan Brooks? Someone for Christopher Newport and presumably, a player for F&M will have to take on the man who averages 28.5 points per game for Western Connecticut. He’s scored 30 or more points 12 times this season, including averaging 36.5 points against teams in the NCAA Tournament.

The best 8-9 game: Misericordia at NYU. At the very least, the atmosphere at NYU on a Thursday night should be spectacular. These are the kind of games we lost when the NCAA took us to this four-team pods setup. Now we have just two of them a season.

What do we make of this game? The Hartwick-Farmingdale State game should be interesting. Keep an eye on Hartwick’s big scorer, Jared Suderley, at 18.7 points and 8/3 rebounds per game. For Farmingdale, the term “big man” is literal, with A.J. Matthews standing 7-0 and averaging 22.4 points and 16.6 rebounds per game. He’s recorded 25 consecutive double-doubles.

Most likely to disappoint: Staten Island. The four losses on the Dolphins’ record are to Lycoming, Adrian, Alvernia and Illinois Wesleyan. The best win might be a 65-59 win against Stevens, which finished second in the Empire 8.

Surprise: Ithaca. Yep, it could happen.

Champion: Amherst, although this bracket has a few other possibilities, such MIT, Franklin and Marshall and even Rhode Island College.

The Virginia Wesleyan bracket

Bethany (25-3) at St. Mary’s, Md. (19-7), winner to Virginia Wesleyan (25-3)
Trinity, Texas (20-8) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (25-2); McMurry (20-8) vs. Whitworth (24-3)
Edgewood (22-6) at UW-River Falls (20-7); Wheaton, Ill. (21-6) vs. Gustavus Adolphus (20-7)
Northwestern, Minn. (17-10) at UW-Whitewater (23-4); Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (25-2) vs. St. Thomas (21-6)

The big question: Will the SCIAC win a game now that it’s separated from the Northwest Conference? Claremont-Mudd-Scripps has St. Thomas, which is vulnerable this season although playing better of late.

The best 8-9 game: Wheaton (Ill.) vs. Gustavus Adolphus. That CMS-St. Thomas is going to be pretty good, too, but I like the matchup that starts us off at River Falls.

What do we make of this game? The Bethany-St. Mary’s game should be pretty good. And not a great match for Bethany, which has to travel in a game it should probably have at home.

Most likely to disappoint: UW-Whitewater is usually one of my go-to responses here and they lost earlier than expected in 2008, lost perhaps when expected in 2010 and 2009.

Surprise: Wheaton. They’ve played well of late, other than at North Central. The Thunder certainly could advance to the second weekend.

Champion: Virginia Wesleyan.

At the Final Four

In the end, looks like I pushed all of our highest-ranked teams to Salem. In looking back at the other possible teams, I don’t see No. 3 MIT getting past Amherst, or Whitworth or Mary Hardin-Baylor getting past Virginia Wesleyan. And Amherst over Hope in the final.

But don’t worry. My track record at this stage of the tournament isn’t very strong, and this tournament is really unpredictable. This is an effort to show you what could happen, where NCAA “seedings” don’t match overall performance and point out where the upsets are possible.