2015 men's NCAA Tournament preview

As crazy as this season has been in Division III men's basketball, would we pick the No. 1 team in the country to win it all?
Randolph-Macon athletics photo 

By Pat Coleman
Executive Editor, D3sports.com

All we need to do here is take the most unpredictable, topsy-turvy Division III men’s basketball season in more than a decade and tell you who will win the national title.

It’s the most wide-open season in years, possibly since 2001. In a typical year, there might be 8-10 teams one could legitimately see as a reasonable pick to win the national title. This year it could be 15.   

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.

So let’s give it a shot. This is to suggest possibilities, things that could happen.

Top left bracket

DePauw (20-9) at Washington U. (20-5), winner to Augustana (23-4)
Neumann (17-10) at Mount Union (22-6), Calvin (21-6) vs. Oswego State (19-9)
Defiance (21-6) at UW-Whitewater (24-3), Ohio Wesleyan (22-5) vs. St. Olaf (21-5)
Medaille (19-7) at Marietta (25-3), Wooster (22-7) vs. Misericordia (21-6)

Ohio Wesleyan will get the video of at least one of the St. Olaf-Bethel games. But would OWU start a lineup as small as Bethel's?
St. Olaf athletics photo

The head scratcher: Ohio Wesleyan vs. St. Olaf. This could or should be a really interesting game, one of a few great matchups featuring teams from different parts of the country playing at a neutral site. Both teams are back in the tournament after going one-and-out on a neutral floor last March, St. Olaf vs. Central and Ohio Wesleyan vs. St. Norbert. 

Most likely to disappoint: Always tough to pick out a home team and predict them to lose. Augustana has the best chance here, however. It’s a tough spot for the Vikings to be in. Wash U or DePauw gets its tournament feet wet and takes on an Augustana team which has been sitting idle. Sometimes the bye teams get a little rusty and it shows. It doesn’t always mean that they’ll lose, but it can take a while to get up to speed, and against a good team, that can be deadly.

Surprise: Calvin. Not sure many of these 15 teams have a chance to win a second-round game away from home, but Calvin should be favored in the first game and if it advances, would be facing players with one game of career NCAA Tournament experience in the second one.

Champion: I’ll pick UW-Whitewater to come out of here. If you’ve read any of the previous previews linked at the top of this page (and there are more – I’ve been writing them since 1998), you’ll find I like chalk and history, and this pick provides both.

Bottom left bracket

Westfield State (20-6) at Babson (25-2), Scranton (22-5) vs. Baruch (21-6)
Keene State (20-8) at Johns Hopkins (23-4), Skidmore (19-7) vs. Wesleyan (19-8)
Endicott (23-5) at Stockton (22-5), Bates (19-6) vs. St. Vincent (22-6)
Colby-Sawyer (19-6) at Trinity, Conn. (20-5), Eastern Connecticut (22-5) vs. Salisbury (20-7)

Hart Gliedman, a senior captain for Trinity (Conn.), started his career at Liberty University.
Trinity (Conn.) athletics photo 

The head scratcher: Bates vs. St. Vincent. Pretty sure that never in my life have I spent any time before this week mentally comparing Bates and St. Vincent in men’s basketball. Or women’s. In the tournament, a player such as Graham Safford for Bates can become even more effective, thanks to media timeouts. And the fresher he can be, the better for Bates, because he and Mike Boornazian have combined to take more than 600 shots.

Most likely to disappoint: Trinity (Conn.). Couple of choices in this bracket, which doesn’t have a ton of teams with national cachet, or a ton of tournament experience, but while Trinity won the NESCAC top seed, the Bantams haven’t looked good of late. They have zero double-digit wins in the past five weeks (and a loss, to boot).

Surprise: Anyone who comes out of this bracket would be a surprise, unless it’s Stockton. Salisbury is one team that is playing particularly well right now. Maybe not enough to get to Salem, but again, there’s a pretty good chance for some major surprises here.

Champion: Stockton. Having the opportunity to host all the way to Salem certainly helps. If the NJAC can’t get a team to the Final Four out of this bracket ...

Top right bracket

Alvernia (18-9) at Catholic (22-5), winner to Randolph-Macon (26-2)
WPI (21-5) at St. John Fisher (23-4), Amherst (20-7) vs. Sage (23-4)
Regis (19-8) at Dickinson (22-5), Albertus Magnus (27-1) vs. Springfield (19-8)
SUNY-Cobleskill (17-10) at William Paterson (20-7), Virginia Wesleyan (23-5) vs. John Carroll (20-6)

The NEWMAC lost all four of its first-round games last year. Springfield could strike a blow in the NEWMAC's favor in the first round this time around.
Springfield athletics photo 

The head scratcher: The Amherst-Sage game. How will Sage do in its first NCAA Tournament appearance? And how will Amherst players do in their first NCAA appearance without Aaron Toomey? Sage hasn’t played a ton of contests (or any contests) vs. NCAA Tournament teams but did defeat NYU on a neutral floor back in November.  

Most likely to disappoint: Albertus Magnus. It hasn’t been mentioned much outside of New England, but Albertus has been without guard James Jennings (11.1 points per game) for a while. He hasn’t played since Jan. 29. The Falcons have hardly missed a beat since but that was against conference opponents. It’s different out here. 

Surprise: Alvernia. The Crusaders are simply playing lights-out of late, and although they are playing with basically just six players, they will get a free timeout at under-16, under-12, under-8 and under-4. Take down Randolph-Macon? Maybe not, but certainly make it interesting if they advance.

Champion: Virginia Wesleyan. Going with the Top 25 ranking that suggests they could well get out of the first weekend. Then following that, they could end up playing in a familiar gym. And do you know how hard it is to beat a good team four times in one season? That’s right, it’s very difficult – because typically you don’t get to play a team four times in one season.

Bottom right bracket

St. Thomas (24-3) vs. Northwestern, Minn. (18-9), Elmhurst (19-7) at St. Norbert (24-1)
Hendrix (12-16) at East Texas Baptist (23-5), Texas Lutheran (18-9) vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (21-6)
Concordia, Wis. (19-9) at UW-Stevens Point (21-5), Illinois Wesleyan (19-8) vs. Dubuque (23-5)
Spalding (18-9) at Emory (20-5), Whitworth (24-3) vs. LaGrange (17-11)

Stags star Tyler Gaffaney is one of the best players you've (likely) never heard of. 
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps photo by Connor Ortman 

The head scratcher: Texas Lutheran vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. This is certainly an opportunity for either of these teams to advance out of this bracket. Texas Lutheran is making its first appearance in the D-III dance, while the SCIAC hasn’t beaten a non-SCIAC team in the NCAA Tournament since 2004.

Most likely to disappoint: Emory and St. Norbert have the biggest challenges coming to their gymnasiums, although that’s a byproduct of Division III geography and Division III hosting rotations. The committee would rather have St. Norbert traveling to St. Thomas (or the most difficult opponent possible, based on how the committee has ranked St. Norbert in recent years), so in reality, St. Thomas is the highest seed in that pod. Either St. Norbert or Elmhurst will give St. Thomas a challenge. And by the way, the UMAC is not the greatest conference and Northwestern had a 2-9 record outside the conference, but Northwestern is making its fifth consecutive tournament appearance and has really been blown out only once. In 2011, they gave the eventual national champion Tommies all they could handle before falling 70-60 in the first round.

Surprise: UW-Stevens Point. For a team that was 21-5, 15-1 in the WIAC, the Pointers didn’t look great coming down the stretch. But they beat UW-Whitewater in Stevens Point and generally have played well at home.

Champion: This was the toughest to pick. I could have taken seven teams from this bracket and picked them as winners in the bottom left, but no one team here stands head and shoulders among the rest. I’m going to cast my lot with Stevens Point, but nod to St. Thomas, St. Norbert, East Texas Baptist, Elmhurst, Illinois Wesleyan, Emory and Whitworth, who I could all see advancing as well.

The Final Four

In this mythical Final Four of UW-Whitewater, Stockton, Virginia Wesleyan and UW-Stevens Point, I note that I’ve advanced three state schools to the Final Four. Let the gnashing of teeth commence. But I don’t think I have the guts to then pick an all-WIAC final.

Nor do I feel this is the year for a repeat. As well as Whitewater has played, I do foresee them advancing all the way to the final. And Whitewater as an institution tends to represent well in Salem. But I think that in this crazy year of basketball, I need to look further than the No. 2 team in the final poll to win it all.

The last time a team came from lower than No. 8 in the final poll and won the national title was 2008, when the No. 11 Bears of Wash U. won the title. So I’m digging down to pick the Marlins of Virginia Wesleyan to win the 2015 national title.

But if you’re a Pointers fan, take heart. No. 8 St. Thomas (24-3 entering the tournament) won it all in 2011 and No. 8 UW-Whitewater (23-4) won it all in 2012. Follow the trend, and perhaps the No. 8-ranked team with five losses can do it this time.

Or perhaps they'll get knocked out in the second round. That's the kind of tournament we are in for!