By Ryan Scott
Move over Tour de France, the most exciting three weeks in sports is now upon us. The bracket is selected and 64 teams are preparing to battle for the NCAA Division III men’s national championship. In the past week, four of the top five teams in the D3hoops.com Top 25 took a loss. Our defending champion, Babson is sitting at home, as is Amherst for the first time since 2010, but the other three returning national semifinalists are alive and well, building on that experience to meet one of the deepest tournament fields in recent memory.
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We say it every year, but this tournament is incredibly difficult to predict. I could see more than half these teams making a legitimate run under the right circumstances and we have no idea who will come through, as evidence by our three missed teams in our mock selection. Last year, I picked Babson to win and they did, so we can forget the other three final four teams I missed and focus on the fact that Babson won, just as I predicted. With that in mind, here is, guaranteed, absolutely, exactly how this tournament will play out:
Top Left Quadrant
|Bobby Casey and Williams found their footing in the NESCAC tournament, which the Ephs won for the first time since 2010.
File photo by Williams athletics
Bridgewater State (18-9) at Williams (22-5); Moravian (20-7) vs Ramapo (21-6)
Lancaster Bible (23-5) at Christopher Newport (21-6); Franklin & Marshall vs Emory & Henry (22-6)
Johnson & Wales (19-9) at Eastern Connecticut (25-3); Lebanon Valley (18-9) vs Middlebury (19-6)
La Roche (21-6) at Johns Hopkins (23-4); Brockport (19-7) vs MIT (22-5)
Best matchup: Both Franklin & Marshall and Emory & Henry had light non-conference schedules and some unexpected hiccups in conference play. The Wasps lost five in a row without sophomore PG Colin Molden, but he’s back on the floor and they’re back winning. F&M relies on some young players for depth, but also has a strong senior class with some unfinished NCAA tournament business. It should be a good one.
What to watch: Middlebury’s rebounding. It’s a strength and they have distinct size advantage in their pod. If they struggle, though, and lack aggressiveness down low, Lebanon Valley’s Sam Light and Andy Orr, who’ve combined for almost 4,000 career points, could really make them pay.
Most likely to surprise: Ramapo was a preseason top five selection. All of that talent and potential remains. They don’t have the burden of high expectations and Williamstown isn’t all that far for fans to travel. I’d still pick Williams at home, but it’s not a pick I’m super confident in.
Most likely to disappoint: I love this Eastern Connecticut squad. Tarchee Brown is a pleasure to watch – a big-bodied guard with quickness, who can score – and the supporting cast is one of ECSU’s best. However, they don’t matchup great with Middlebury in the potential second round and the burden of expectation is tough.
Who will win: I’m going to pick Middlebury and Williams as I hinted above. Johns Hopkins is at home and has a relatively easy draw; I feel confident with them coming through. Christopher Newport and F&M could be a great game. CNU’s bench is better and they’ll have a great crowd in Newport News, which will elevate them. I’m going to pick Williams to return to Salem. When they lost Kyle Scadlock this seemed impossible, but they’ve adjusted well and they’re got Mike Greenman back from injury. The fifth year senior has already enjoyed two trips to Salem. I think he leads the Ephs to a third.
Bottom Left Quadrant
|Junior guard Nolan Ebel was one of three Augustana players selected to the CCIW's all-conference team.
Photo by Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com
Misericordia (17-10) at Wittenberg (26-2); UW-Oshkosh (20-7) vs Marietta (21-6)
Berry (11-17) at Emory (21-4); Hanover (22-6) vs LeTourneau (23-4)
Greenville (19-8) at Augustana (22-5); Hope (18-9) vs Augsburg (21-7)
Thomas More (23-5) at John Carroll (23-5); Illinois Wesleyan (19-7) vs Wooster (21-6)
Best matchup: Oshkosh and Marietta is an epic first round battle. No one would’ve been surprised to see this one as a sectional final. Marietta might have a little trouble with the size the Titans bring to the paint, but the Pioneers can score and push the tempo, plus they’ve played at Wittenberg already this year, so the environs won’t be entirely unfamiliar.
What to watch: Alex O’Neill, Illinois Wesleyan’s 6’9” sophomore center is still developing his game, but his skill and size will be an advantage against Wooster and possibly John Carroll. If he can find success down low, it will clear space for Brady Rose to work on the perimeter. If IWU emerges from this weekend, it will be largely because of his contributions.
Most likely to surprise: Hanover, like Ramapo, was a preseason D3hoops.com Top 5 team. They struggled a bit during the year, but won the HCAC and remain a talented squad with multiple offensive weapons. Emory is good, playing at the top of their game and playing at home, but I could definitely see Hanover coming out of this pod.
Most likely to disappoint: Oshkosh came into the season with high expectations and loads of talent. Playing in the super tough WIAC hurt the overall record, but they just did not win the games they or anyone else expected them to win. Having to go through Marietta and Wittenberg in Ohio makes it even tougher. The committee has seeded them effectively third in the pod, but I think the Titans expect more from themselves and it could be hard to deliver.
Who will win: The performance of Collin Olmscheid in the MIAC tourney has given me pause, but in the end, I don’t think it’s enough to overcome Augustana’s depth and experience. I see them matching up with CCIW rival IWU, while Wittenberg and surprise Hanover round out the sectional. Wittenberg will likely host second weekend and Chad Roy is a beast down low, but I think the Augustana guards will be too much for the Tiger back court and the Vikings return to Salem.
Top Right Quadrant
|Andrew Sanders leads Washington U. in scoring with 16.7 points per game, but he has plenty of help. Five other Bears also average double-figures.
File photo by Danny Reise, WUSTL
Schreiner (15-13) at Whitman (26-1); Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (18-7) vs Whitworth (24-3)
Bethany Lutheran (19-8) at St. John’s (23-3); North Central (Ill.) (19-8) vs UW-Stevens Point (19-8)
Aurora (19-8) at Washington U. (22-3); Maryville (22-6) vs Nebraska Wesleyan (24-3)
Monmouth (20-7) at UW-Platteville (22-4); St. Olaf (19-7) vs Sul Ross State (22-6)
Best matchup: North Central and Steven Point deserve each other – two talented teams from power conferences who had up-and-down seasons. Both were written off entirely early on, but rounded into form late. Alex Sorenson and Connor Rairdon are two of the best forwards in Division III and Steven Point has only one player averaging more than three rebounds per game. What the Pointers do have is killer defense, especially on the perimeter. This one is anybody’s game.
What to watch: Michael Scarlett almost single-handedly beat Whitworth in the tournament last year and we’re all looking forward to the rematch. Both teams are better. CMS is healthy for the first time all season and rolled through the SCIAC. Whitworth is coming off the big win over Whitman and surely remembers going out in the first round. This could be intense.
Most likely to surprise: Nebraska Wesleyan played a weak non-conference schedule, struggled with some injuries, and lost a few more games in the IIAC than a team with their talent probably should have. There are lots of question marks there, but also a lot of really good players. They’ve been on form for the past few weeks and while WashU is a formidable obstacle, they’ve also shown moments of weakness this year.
Most likely to disappoint: Whitman has lost just two games in two seasons, they’ve been ranked number one all season, and they get to host the first weekend. Still, despite returning the whole roster from last year, two key starters are injured and they’ve not been as dominant in-game as last season. They have the most at stake and a guaranteed tough second round opponent.
Who will win: Last year, Claremont-Mudd Scripps beat Whitworth and gave Whitman a game. I think CMS is better and I don’t think Whitman is as strong. I’m going to pick Whitman through to the sectionals, but I would not be surprised by CMS emerging. St. John’s has the size and shooting to beat either possible second round opponent. I believe they have the discipline to beat Whitman, too. WashU and Platteville will take advantage of the home court to advance as well. As for the bid to Salem, WashU has been as dominant as anyone this year, while Platteville has been consistent yet unspectacular. St. John’s is a strong, deep team, but I think WashU is stronger. The UAA champ back to the Final Four.
Bottom Right Quadrant
|Matt Scamuffo and York (Pa.) could see Swarthmore again in the sectional finals, if they both get that far.
File photo by York College athletics
Southern Vermont (22-5) at Wesleyan (21-6); New England College (21-6) vs Swarthmore (22-5)
Nichols (25-3) at Plattsburgh State (22-4); Union (18-8) vs New Jersey City (19-7)
Yeshiva (18-10) at York, Pa. (23-4); Nazareth (20-7) vs Hamilton (22-4)
Staten Island (16-12) at Cabrini (24-3); Springfield (18-8) vs Albright (20-6)
Best matchup: Before the bracket was released, two of my favorites for the Northeast sectional would’ve been Nichols and Plattsburgh State – two supremely talented teams hitting on all cylinders right now. Nichols and NEC should’ve switched spots on the bracket, but what we get is a stellar first round game. Plattsburgh really likes to score and Nichols really, really likes to score – both teams are in the top 20 nationally for scoring average. Jonathan Patron is probably the best player in the game, but Nichols has more weapons. Great watch all around.
What to watch: York is a very talented and typically disciplined team. They have to be, because they’re not very deep. On a good night, they can beat anybody, but on a bad night, they can lose to anyone. If we see foul trouble for the Spartans, that’s hope for the opponent. If the starters stay on the floor, they are tough to beat.
Most likely to surprise: Swarthmore gets the easiest non-host first round matchup in the entire tournament. Of all the NESCAC teams, Wesleyan is the best matchup for the Garnet. I know I’ve been on the Swat bandwagon all year and that they lost the Centennial Conference final at home this weekend, but they’re playing well and fully healthy.
Most likely to disappoint: Cabrini has a gaudy record and hosting duties. They are no longer just Tyheim Monroe and everyone else, but they haven’t been tested lately and sometimes struggle with consistency. Springfield barely got in the tournament and has nothing to lose. They’ve also got an incredibly talented sophomore class that matches up well with the Cavaliers. I don’t think Cabrini makes it out of the weekend.
Who will win: On a neutral floor, I’d take Nichols, but I think Plattsburgh at home emerges, along with Swarthmore, Springfield, and York. York – Plattsburgh in the sectional final would be really interesting – I think that happens at York, though, and the Spartans head to Salem.
We have a Final Four rematch from last year, when Augustana defeated Williams in Salem to reach the championship game. Both teams have lost players since then and I think Williams has lost more. I chose Augustana for a second consecutive appearance in the national championship game. WashU is just a better version of York all the way around. I don’t see how the Spartans can really win any of those matchups.
The Augustana I watched win the CCIW tournament final looked a lot more like last year’s version than this year’s up-and-down squad. That gives me hope. At the same time, WashU has been consistently good all year long and is led by a host of talented and determined seniors, usually a winning recipe in Salem. Augustana won a regular season matchup in St. Louis this year, 72-57. I think the second half of that game, which WashU won, is more indicative of their abilities than the first.
Put it on the board: Washington University for the 2018 NCAA Division III men’s basketball title. I did not fail you last year and I will be right again!