Who's in? Our projected men's bracket

In our projected bracket, UW-River Falls faces an opponent that is 39 miles away. UW-Oshkosh faces one that is 781 miles away. Read below to find out how.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

By Gordon Mann, Ryan Scott and Pat Coleman

As usual our mock selections are a team effort. Dave McHugh, Ryan Scott and Bob Quilman did the heavy lifting on Sunday's Hoopsville Selection Special. Matt Snyder helped with his indispensible strength-of-schedule work and Gordon Mann dutifully played scribe.

And, as usual, these picks do not influence the NCAA Tournament selection committee's picks, nor does our Top 25 poll. Those are the two most common misconceptions for people who don't like our picks. 

That said, here are our projections.

We start by projecting the regional rankings for each of the eight regions because that's how the process actually starts. The regional committees that have been producing those rankings do it one more time and then send them to the national tournament selection committee. That committee may make adjustments to the regional rankings, which can alter which teams are regionally ranked, which then changes some teams' records against regionally ranked opponents (one of the criteria in selecting at-large teams).

Here's where we came down on the tough regional ranking calls:

  • Springfield and Amherst both lost in the conference semifinals, so which one lands higher in the Northeast rankings? Springfield has a better winning percentage against regionally ranked opponents (4-2 versus 4-6) but the numerical criteria are real close and the Mammoths have the head-to-head victory. So we slot Amherst in front of Springfield.
  • East Texas Baptist knocked LeTourneau out of the ASC tournament but couldn't get past Sul Ross State in the ASC title game. Would the Tigers, who weren't ranked in Wednesday's regional rankings, vault ahead of the Yellow Jackets and several other teams, including the Yellow Jackets of Randolph-Macon? We think so.
  • North Central (Ill.) has the rarity of beating Illinois Wesleyan twice this week, including in Friday night's CCIW semifinal. We decided that was enough to put the Cardinals in front of the Titans in the Central, with both sitting behind UW-Oshkosh.

Eventually the national committee ends up with a final list of regional rankings, which we'll hopefully get to see after the projections are released this year. The rankings include teams that have clinched automatic bids, which are set aside for the bracketing stage. Then the highest ranked team without an AQ within each region comes to the table for consideration as an at-large candidate. There are eight teams up for consideration at any point, one from each region. When a team is picked, the next highest ranked team within that region comes to the table.

Rather than agonize over which teams would leave the board first, we agreed that these 11 teams (listed alphabetically) were basically locks, whatever the order is -- Emory, Hamilton, Marietta, Middlebury, New Jersey City, St. John's, Swarthmore, UW-Platteville, Wesleyan, Whitman and Wooster.

That gives us four NESCAC teams already between conference tournament winner Williams, Hamilton, Middlebury and Wesleyan. Last year the NESCAC had five tournament participants. We'll see if they get there again. New Jersey City's long wait since losing in the NJAC quarterfinal ends pretty quickly during this process.

Now comes the fun part where we try to pick the 10 remaining at-large teams. In each case the regions are listed in the following order: Northeast, East, Atlantic, Middle Atlantic, Central, South, Great Lakes and West.

12th pick: Amherst, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Christopher Newport, UW-Oshkosh, East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, St. Olaf

We honed in on Christopher Newport and UW-Oshkosh because their numerical resumes set them apart from the other six. The Captains have a better winning percentage and one more win over a regionally ranked opponent (RRO). Albright takes the Captains place as the second of several Mid Atlantic teams who are good candidates.

13th pick: Amherst, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Albright, UW-Oshkosh, East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, St. Olaf

Story continues below ...

So now it's Albright and Oshkosh who sit above the rest. While the Lions have three regionally ranked wins, like CNU, those wins come against teams ranked farther down in the Mid Atlantic and Atlantic. So UW-Oshkosh comes off the board a lot sooner this year than last.

14th pick: Amherst, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Albright, North Central (Ill), East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, St. Olaf
15th pick: Amherst, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Albright, North Central (Ill), East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, Loras
16th pick: Amherst, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Franklin and Marshall, North Central (Ill), East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, Loras

St. Olaf and Albright came off the board next replaced by Loras and Franklin and Marshall respectively. The Diplomats are yet another Mid Atlantic team with a strong resume and, numerically speaking, maybe a little better than Albright. But the Lions have a head-to-head win against F&M and enter the party first.

17th pick: Amherst, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Lycoming, North Central (Ill), East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, Loras
18th pick: Springfield, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Lycoming, North Central (Ill.), East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, Loras

There's a question which Mid Atlantic team comes to the table next. We had Lycoming, but it could be Juniata or Mary Washington. Spoiler alert -- ultimately it doesn't matter. Now every team has a reason for them not to be picked. North Central (Ill.) has a good strength-of-schedule and four wins over regionally ranked opponents, but they come against teams at the bottom of the Central region rankings (two each against Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton). Amherst has a low winning percentage but four wins against teams higher up in the Northeast. The Mammoths are in next, followed by North Central. Springfield and Illinois Wesleyan take their place.

19th pick: Springfield, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Lycoming, Illinois Wesleyan, East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, Loras
20th pick: Springfield, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Lycoming, UW-River Falls, East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, Loras
21st pick: Springfield, Hobart, Gwynedd Mercy, Lycoming, Ripon, East Texas Baptist, Ohio Northern, Loras

We followed the same logic in picking Illinois Wesleyan over Springfield as above. The Titans have fewer wins against regional ranked opponents than the Pride, but we think they are better wins. River Falls has a 3-7 record against regionally ranked opponents, but the selection committee rewarded Oshkosh for playing lots of regionally ranking opponents last year, even though the Titans didn't beat many of them. We took the Statesmen with our last spot because it's hard to imagine them sitting on the board for the entire process and not accumulating enough support along the way to get the call.

So there you go. Our projected 21 at-large bids go to Albright, Amherst, Christopher Newport, Franklin and Marshall, Emory, Hamilton, Hobart, Illinois Wesleyan, Marietta, Middlebury, New Jersey City, North Central (Ill.), St. John's, St. Olaf, Swarthmore, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, Wesleyan, Whitman and Wooster.

Here's how we would pair them up:

Story continues below ...

Augustana pod: Bethany Lutheran at Augustana; Augsburg vs. UW-River Falls
Emory pod: Berry at Emory; Thomas More vs. Whitworth
St. John's pod: Aurora at St. John's; North Central (Ill.) vs. Nebraska Wesleyan
Washington U. pod: Greenville at Washington U.; UW-Stevens Point vs. Maryville (Tenn.)

Williams pod: Lancaster Bible at Williams; Albright vs. Hobart
Ramapo pod: Southern Vermont at Ramapo; Amherst vs. Union
Plattsburgh State pod: Bridgewater State vs. Plattsburgh State; New Jersey City vs. Franklin & Marshall
Hamilton pod: Johnson & Wales at Hamilton; Wooster vs. Misericordia

Johns Hopkins pod: Yeshiva at Johns Hopkins; Eastern Connecticut vs. Lebanon Valley
Cabrini pod: Nazareth at Cabrini; Middlebury vs. Christopher Newport
York (Pa.) pod: New England College at York (Pa.); Marietta vs. Nichols
Wesleyan pod: La Roche at Wesleyan; Swarthmore vs. MIT

Wittenberg pod: Moravian at Wittenberg; UW-Oshkosh vs. Emory & Henry
UW-Platteville pod: Monmouth at UW-Platteville; St. Olaf vs. Hope
Whitman pod: Schreiner at Whitman; Sul Ross State vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
John Carroll pod: Staten Island at John Carroll; Illinois Wesleyan vs. Hanover

Some years the selections make it difficult for us to produce interesting first weekend matchups, and some years it's great. UW-Oshkosh vs. Emory & Henry? Maryville (Tenn.) vs. UW-Stevens Point? As long as they are both within 500 miles of a host, then we can get them both there, and we love it.

We also have intentionally scheduled an extra first-weekend flight, because we simply believe the NCAA must separate Whitman and Whitworth. It would be unfortunate if they had to meet in the first weekend.

Meanwhile, we've grouped them above by sectionals, so unfortunately, we find it unlikely the NCAA would separate Augustana, St. John's and Washington U.'s pods because the geography is too favorable for them. But for us, the top quarter of the bracket, and the bottom quarter of the bracket have to be allowed to meet in the national title game, if they manage to make it there.