2013 men's tournament preview

Jordan Brink and Calvin have a chance to prove the NCAA wrong on Saturday night.
Photo by Eric Kelley, d3photography.com

By Pat Coleman
Executive Editor, D3sports.com

Welcome to the annual NCAA Tournament preview, where we attempt to pick a Cinderella team, an early-round disappointment, and a few other interesting games on the road to Salem and Atlanta.

This is an interesting year, of course. It’s impossible to really judge how having a full week between games will affect teams. Some have suggested that it might make upsets more likely because teams have a full week to prepare, but I think it’s the opposite. I think the better teams, especially the better-coached teams benefit. Also, the banged-up teams benefit from the extra time, but it’s hard to know who those teams are.

Off we go.

The top left bracket

Calvin (24-3) at Rose-Hulman (24-3); Northwestern, Minn. (21-6) at UW-Stevens Point (21-5)
Aurora (22-6) at St. Thomas (26-1); St. Norbert (20-5) at Wheaton, Ill. (20-6)
Delaware Valley (19-8) at Virginia Wesleyan (21-7); Rutgers-Newark (20-7) at Christopher Newport (21-5)
Wesley (20-7) at Williams (23-4); Staten Island (22-5) at Catholic (24-3)

The big question: Who’s right, D3hoops voters or the NCAA? The Top 25 has Calvin ranked 12th and Rose-Hulman No. 19, while the NCAA regional rankings have had Calvin low in the Great Lakes Region the whole season, with the Knights entering the tournament No. 5 in the Great Lakes and Rose-Hulman No. 3 in the Midwest.

The best 8-9 game: St. Norbert at Wheaton. St. Norbert’s season has been a little bit up and down but the Green Knights did beat UW-Whitewater in December. Unfortunately, the Warhawks turned the tables on them in February, winning in Whitewater 63-38. If the Green Knights can channel that night, they can send Wheaton in front of their home crowd.

What do we make of this game? Rutgers-Newark at Christopher Newport. The Captains have played a pretty good schedule, opening the season with three consecutive games against teams that later ended up in the regional rankings, and four of those games in the first six. And by the way, they went 3-1 in those games. Both teams are holding opponents to 37 percent shooting from the floor, so expect it to be an ugly game, if nothing else.

Most likely to disappoint: The loser of the presumed second-round game between Williams and Catholic. Not knowing where that game is going to be played makes it difficult to call a winner of a second-round game between our No. 8- and No. 9-ranked team, but by all measures, they should not be potentially meeting this early.

Surprise: I should pick Calvin, because they’ll have a chance to win a road game in the first round. Of the teams not already highlighted, I don’t think anyone else will. But I wanted to take this spot to shine a positive light on another team: Northwestern. The Eagles have drawn the eventual national champion in the first round each of the past two years and have been reasonably competitive, especially so in a 10-point loss at St. Thomas in 2011.

Going to Salem: St. Thomas and Williams.

The bottom left bracket

Concordia, Texas (23-5) at Trinity, Texas (20-7); winner to Mary Hardin-Baylor (23-5)
Redlands (22-5) at Whitworth (24-3); Randolph (21-6) at Emory (19-6)
MIT (20-5) at St. Mary’s, Md. (20-5); Albertus Magnus (24-4) at Alvernia (23-4)
Morrisville State (21-5) vs. Ramapo (23-4); Hobart (21-6) at Rhode Island College (25-3)

Michael Florin had 11 points and 10 assists to help Emory play its way into the NCAA Tournament with a win against Rochester to close the season.
Emory athletics photo 

The big question: Alright, Whitworth, you have a chance to host a Sweet 16 game. What will you do with it?

The best 8-9 game: Randolph at Emory. Plus, this is a pretty intriguing game between two teams that haven’t ever been to the tournament, in the case of Randolph, or in 23 years, such as Emory. Alex Greven leads the Eagles of late, especially when he scored 26 in back-to-back games to make the D3hoops.com Team of the Week. He’s scored 20.4 points per game over the past five outings. On the opposite side, the WildCats have been led by Colton Hunt for basically forever. This year the senior is averaging 24.6 points per game and has scored 1,864 career points.

What do we make of this game? The Texas three-step is up for grabs, as any of the three teams could advance to the Sweet 16.

Most likely to disappoint: Alvernia. This is another one of those teams that apparently scores well in the NCAA’s regional ranking criteria but doesn’t have what the Top 25 voters are looking for. That’s probably because the only NCAA Tournament team on the Crusaders’ schedule is Delaware Valley (19-8). Alvernia racked up a bunch of results vs. regionally ranked opponents against Albright (21-6) and Arcadia (16-11), neither of which made the tournament.

Surprise: MIT is definitely capable of going on the road and winning twice. They might not even have to make a second road trip, depending on the results in the other half of this pod.

Going to Salem: Whitworth and Rhode Island College.

The top right bracket

Husson (20-8) at Plattsburgh State (19-8), winner to Amherst (25-2)
Randolph-Macon (19-9) vs. Stevens (22-5) at Lehman; SUNY-Purchase (22-5) at WPI (25-2)
Penn State-Behrend (20-8) at Wooster (22-5); Marietta at Dickinson (20-7)
Cabrini (22-5) at Hampden-Sydney (23-4); St. Vincent (23-5) at Ohio Wesleyan (22-5)

Craig Davis has been in and out of the starting lineup for SUNY-Purchase this season.
SUNY-Purchase athletics photo 

The big question: Does St. Vincent have what it takes to compete in Division III the way it did in the NAIA? St. Vincent was a big fish in the NAIA Division I basketball pond, then hit the ground with a thud in 2009-10, going 6-19.

The best 8-9 game: Husson at Plattsburgh State. The winner even goes on to a top seed the next round. Husson took Williams to overtime in the first round two years ago  and both teams have played competitively against NCAA Tournament teams this year (although Husson also took its biggest loss of the year against a tourney team as well, losing 82-49 at Catholic).  

What do we make of this game? SUNY-Purchase at WPI. The early rounds of the tournament often have a significant number of these kinds of games – teams with contrasting styles who probably would never schedule each other voluntarily. I love when these happen. You have to be able to beat all types of teams to win a title.

Most likely to disappoint: Dickinson. The Centennial Conference was really down this year. Marietta has tournament experience and travels well. Whether that translates to a five-hour drive to Carlisle, Pa., remains to be seen.

Surprise: Randolph-Macon. Stevens has struggled on the road. Wonder if that translates to neutral-site games as well.

Going to Salem: Amherst and Ohio Wesleyan.

The bottom right bracket

Spalding (20-7) at Washington U. (20-5); Transylvania (20-7) at Illinois Wesleyan (21-5)
Dubuque (22-6) at UW-Whitewater (23-4); Centre (21-5) at North Central, Ill. (24-3)
Ithaca (19-8) at Springfield (19-8); Fitchburg State (16-10) at Rochester (21-4)
Curry (21-7) at Middlebury (22-3); Elms (18-9) at Cortland State (23-4)

Springfield could be the second NEWMAC team in Salem in two years.
Photo by Robert Krawitz 

The big question: Who ends up cheating death? 

The best 8-9 game: Ithaca-Springfield. It is literally the only game which qualifies in the first round in this bracket. And this should be a good game, don't get me wrong, but the fact that there are no other even matches speaks to the imbalance here.

What do we make of this game? Spalding at Washington University-St. Louis might not be the blowout we would expect from a SLIAC team in the first round.

Most likely to disappoint: Illinois Wesleyan. They're likely to prove me wrong, now, but they come in to the tournament heading in the wrong direction, and Transylvania has played plenty of quality opponents this season.

Surprise: Springfield. I might be digging pretty deep for this one, but I can't buy the hype on Ithaca and after all those years of the Pride getting run over by Ithaca on grass, now they have them on the hardwood instead. No, not football? Regardless, I look at Springfield as just the type of team that could put a little run together, and Rochester is certainly beatable as a second-round opponent, the way the Yellowjackets have played the last few weeks.

Going to Salem: UW-Whitewater and ... Springfield. Because chalk is boring.

Salem and beyond

St. Thomas has just been blowing the doors off of teams this season. They look better than 2011, frankly. I think they can beat Williams based on their superior depth. The Tommies have a way of using that depth to wear teams out down the stretch. Rhode Island College and Whitworth would be an interesting game. I am not sure Rhode Island College has the offensive firepower to stick with Whitworth unless it can significantly slow them down. Whitworth averages nearly 80 points per game, in the top 10 percent of Division III. Of course, Rhode Island College allows the second-fewer points in Division III this season: 55.6 points per game. If defense truly doesn't go into a slump, RIC should advance. And I see Amherst and UW-Whitewater, a pair of Final Four veteran programs against programs that lack that experience.

With this foursome, Atlanta could have some great storylines. It could be two West Region teams facing off, or two New England Region teams, or two state schools, or several combinations of purple teams. I'm not big on storylines, but shoot, our No. 1 and No. 2 teams are still here. So let's advance them to Atlanta.

I'm not sure the extra week is a huge factor. Is playing in a large arena a factor? Is playing on a Sunday afternoon a factor? How about being rusty rather than rested? Each coach will have two weeks to prepare, plus will have had the opportunity to see his opponent play twice in person in Salem.

Who guards Aaron Toomey? Can Tommy Hannon keep Peter Kaasila in check? And how about Allen Williamson?

Should be a great game. And I'm taking Amherst to win that one.