2011 men's tournament preview

By Pat Coleman
Executive Editor, D3sports.com

Andrew Locks
Andrew Locke is the big man in the middle for Middlebury.
Middlebury athletics photo 

It’s become harder and harder to tell you what will happen each season in this preview, which is why we’ve been expanding it. It’s easier to tell you a lot of things that could happen.

And in a year in which the eastern half of Division III has a bunch of extra teams in the field, flooding the brackets, where is the cream? Will it rise to the top?

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.

The Whitworth Bracket

Redlands (16-11) at Chapman (24-3), winner to Whitworth (26-1)
Centre (21-5) at Marietta (25-3), La Roche (24-2) vs. Wittenberg (19-8)
Benedictine (21-7) at Wooster (26-2), Manchester (21-6) vs. Bethany (21-7)
New Jersey City (19-9) at Cabrini (22-5), SUNY-Purchase (23-4) vs. Hartwick (17-10)

The Big Question: Where will the sectional be? We have to believe it won’t be at Whitworth, which would be another screwing of the west coast.

The best 8-9 game: Manchester vs. Bethany. Teams playing on a neutral floor, one a conference contender for most of the year and the other an upset winner in its conference tournament.

What do we make of this game? La Roche vs. Wittenberg. There are so many storylines that it’s hard to know where to begin. La Roche lost its coach when Scott Lang collapsed and died after practice in December. The team was already on a tear and has continued it into March. They were the No. 1 team in the NCAA’s Mid-Atlantic rankings but were sent to a site where they are clearly the second-best team after La Roche determined it was not able to host and did not file to do so. Wittenberg made the title game in 2006, but slipped to 12-13 in 2008-09 and started off this season 1-3 before rattling off 16 wins in 18 games, capped by a win against No. 1 Wooster. Then they lost three of five, one by 22 points at Hiram.

Most likely to disappoint: La Roche. They can’t live up to their gaudy NCAA ranking, at least not easily. Their No. 20 ranking in the D3hoops.com Top 25 is more accurate right now.

Surprise: New Jersey City. The Gothic Knights are on just a bit of a roll. It’s not unusual for an NJAC team to pick up a couple of new players at the break and go on a run, but starting from 3-6 and winning 16 of 19 is unusual. And in this case, it isn’t new players, but losing Dashawn Eagle and Isaiah Johnson, who had combined for 10 starts and more than 10 points per game.

Champion: Whitworth.

The Williams Bracket

Husson (21-6) at Williams (25-2); Becker (23-4) vs. Scranton (20-5)
Delaware Valley (17-10) at Virginia Wesleyan (23-4); Franklin and Marshall (22-5) vs. North Carolina Wesleyan (21-6)
Bridgewater State (19-9) at WPI (22-5); Amherst (22-3) vs. Skidmore (18-9)
Wells (17-11) at Oswego State (23-4); Penn State-Behrend (23-4) vs. Rhode Island College (19-7)


Jay Wang
Jay Wang ran point for Williams in the national title game last year and could do it again in 2011.
Photo by Matt Milless, d3photography.com 

The Big Question: Can Amherst and Williams force a rematch?

The best 8-9 game: Becker vs. Scranton. Becker hasn’t played the toughest of schedule but has done well against it with a 23-4 record. Two of their wins against tournament teams came before D.J. Exum was injured. Scranton’s two recent trips to the tournament resulted in one-and-outs against teams that then lost their next game.  

What do we make of this game? Franklin and Marshall vs. North Carolina Wesleyan, an interesting departure for a Diplomats team which has played more East, Atlantic and Northeast Region teams of late. North Carolina Wesleyan isn’t any better than Wesley 2009 or Oneonta State 2010, just different.

Most likely to disappoint: WPI. With Matt Carr slowed by an injury and Amherst in the building, it’s a bad combination for a team that has also lost two of its past four, one of them at home.

Surprise:  Is it cheating to pick Amherst as a surprise? It would be a surprise by the NCAA seedings but not by our poll. Rhode Island College is a good pick by both measures, however.

Champion: Williams. They may not have to leave their building to do it but odds are that they won’t have to play on their chief competition’s home floor. In the end, swapping the Oswego State pod and the Virginia Wesleyan pod could have ensured a classic Elite Eight game.

The Augustana bracket

Texas-Dallas (21-6) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (21-7), winner to McMurry (21-7)
Webster (20-6) at Augustana (24-3), Hope (22-6) vs. Hanover (19-7)
Luther (18-8) at Concordia, Wis. (23-4); UW-Stevens Point (24-3) vs. St. Norbert (20-5)
Northwestern, Minn. (21-6) at St. Thomas (24-3); UW-River Falls (20-7) vs. Illinois Wesleyan (19-8)

Tyler Tillema
Tyler Tillema has taken on a bigger role since his brother, Dan, got injured.
UWSP athletics photo 

The Big Question: Augustana, UW-Stevens Point or St. Thomas? There are three of this year’s heavyweights in this quadrant of the bracket, setting up some great potential Sweet 16 and Elite 8 possibilities.

The best 8-9 game: UW-River Falls vs. Illinois Wesleyan. First off, this matchup is opposite the best 1-16 matchup in this bracket. Or 1-15, as it were. But we also have a whole three-team pod of 8-9 games in Texas. But I like UW-River Falls vs. Illinois Wesleyan because it’s just a great matchup of runners-up in two of Division III’s power conferences.

What do we make of this game? You could throw a blanket over the three Texas teams. That’s two games that are complete and utter toss-ups.

Most likely to disappoint: St. Thomas. This might be a matter of me being too familiar with the Tommies but having seen them take commanding leads in a few home games against inferior teams and then cough those leads up, well, it’s not a good indicator of NCAA Tournament success.

Surprise: Hanover, perhaps? I don’t see a road team outside of Texas winning two games to advance, although the UWRF-IWU winner has potential, as you might gather from my St. Thomas pick above. Hanover could win the one, anyway, but that’s a toss-up game to begin with.

Champion: Of the aforementioned big three teams in this quadrant, only one is playing better than it did at the beginning of the season. That’s UW-Stevens Point. Even without Dan Tillema, I like the team’s depth and the all-around package. Jerrel Harris has really stepped up his game over the course of the season at point guard to the point that nobody is talking about the team missing Jared Jenkins.

Except I just mentioned it, of course.

The Middlebury bracket

Johnson and Wales (20-8) at Ramapo (20-6), Gwynedd-Mercy (21-6) vs. Buffalo State (21-6)
Medgar Evers (17-11) at St. Mary’s, Md. (22-5), Randolph-Macon (24-4) vs. Alvernia (18-8)
MIT (19-8) at Ithaca (20-6), Rochester (20-5) vs. Elms (20-7)
Salve Regina (17-10) at Western Connecticut (21-5), winner to Middlebury (25-1)

The Big Question: Will Middlebury be around next week? Two years ago the Panthers got a first-round bye and lost at home to Bridgewater State. The following year they beat Gordon in the first round before losing at home to Rhode Island College. This team has Final Four hopes but needs to get to the round of 16 first.

The best 8-9 game: Gwynedd-Mercy vs. Buffalo State. Gwynedd-Mercy has been to the tournament a couple times in the past decade but is hardly a playoff veteran, while Buffalo State hasn’t been in the tournament since 2003.

What do we make of this game? Johnson and Wales at Ramapo. Remember last year, when a GNAC team knocked off an NJAC team at home? This game has that kind of potential. Johnson and Wales features the top individual scorer in Division III basketball in Lamonte Thomas, and the game gives him the platform to show whether he’s worthy of All-American consideration.

Most likely to disappoint: Western Connecticut. They haven’t played nearly as well the past few weeks as they did for the first 18 games or so.

Surprise: The base definition is when a team wins two games away from home to reach the Sweet 16, recall. Randolph-Macon matches that definition, thanks to the NCAA. So does Rochester. But both are the higest-ranked teams in their pods. I think the surprise team comes out of the Ramapo pod, and will go with Johnson and Wales, even though the old cliché says to lean on teams with senior guards and Thomas is only a junior.

Champion: Middlebury. Third time’s the charm. No, really.

Michael Taylor
Michael Taylor, a transfer from Division I Montana, has been a key addition for the Pirates.
Whitworth athletics photo

At the Final Four

Now, I’ve picked three “top seeds” to advance, which doesn’t happen very often. Whitworth takes on Williams, where Troy Whittington is a tough matchup for any team. Felix Friedt would have his hands full on defense. So would Clay Gebbers, who would undoubtedly draw the defensive assignment on point guard Jay Wang. Whitworth has enough speed. Enough 3-point shooting, in a big building, but that didn’t bother them in the D3hoops.com Classic, played in a similarly sized building. (Well, it may have in one game. They shot 4-for-24 in the first game and 7-for-19 in the second.) I’m going with Whitworth.

UW-Stevens Point ends Middlebury’s run, I think. Middlebury has height but the Pointers have size and know how to use it. Jerrel Harris is having a great season at point guard, the team shoots well across the board and takes care of the basketball (fewer than 12 turnovers per game). Andrew Locke’s minutes were limited this past weekend in the NESCAC tournament but would have to figure if he can play 16 minutes against Williams the the day after playing 22 minutes and blocking seven shots against Amherst, then he should be alright.

And Whitworth over UW-Stevens Point. The game that should have been played in Las Vegas. But it will be better played in Salem.