Who's in? Our projected men's bracket

Things did not land well for Centre on Sunday. Will they on Monday?
Centre athletics photo by Matt Ballard

By Pat Coleman and Gordon Mann

Our mock selections have become a team effort over the year. Dave McHugh, Ryan Scott and Bob Quilman were joined by Medaille head coach Mike Blaine, a former committee member, to do the heavy lifting on Sunday's Hoopsville Selection Special. Matt Snyder helped with his indispensible strength-of-schedule work.

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).

Eventually the national committee ends up with a final list of regional rankings, which we'll get to see after the projections are released. The rankings include teams that have clinched automatic bids, which are set aside for the bracketing stage. Then the highest ranked team without an automatic bid 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.

We knew there were 11 obvious picks who were going to make the NCAA Tournament, no matter what, and rather than go through the extensive debate, we placed the following teams in the field as at-large selections: Augustana, Randolph-Macon, Hamilton, Williams, UW-Oshkosh, Loras, Marietta, York (Pa.), St. Thomas, Wooster, Rochester. New Jersey City was selected next.

Now comes the fun part where we try to pick the 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.

13th pick: Picking from MIT, Plattsburgh State, Ramapo, Salisbury, Wheaton, Centre, Capital, Whitworth, our crew took Capital.

14th pick: Capital is replaced by La Roche in the Great Lakes. La Roche didn't even get into Pool C consideration until close to 8 p.m. ET. Because of high wind and weather in the Pittsburgh area, the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference men's basketball final was delayed, thanks to a power failure. If the game couldn't be finished by a specific deadline, then La Roche would have been given the automatic bid by fiat, without having to play. But they did play, and lost to Penn State-Behrend. Picking from MIT, Plattsburgh State, New Jersey City, Salisbury, Wheaton, Centre, La Roche, Whitworth, we took MIT.

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15th pick: Middlebury is next on the docket from the Northeast. Picking from Middlebury, Plattsburgh State, New Jersey City, Salisbury, Wheaton, Centre, La Roche, Whitworth, we took Plattsburgh State.

16th pick: Brockport comes onto the board for the East at this point, and at 17-11, they are unlikely to get into the field. Picking from Middlebury, Brockport, New Jersey City, Salisbury, Wheaton, Centre, La Roche, Whitworth. Middlebury goes in at this spot. The crew thought Wheaton and Salisbury were very similar but the Panthers had a slightly better winning percentage and their SOS was higher.

17th pick: Eastern Connecticut comes onto the board at this point. Picking from Eastern Connecticut, Brockport, New Jersey City, Salisbury, Wheaton, Centre, La Roche, Whitworth, Wheaton was chosen. Wheaton and Salisbury rose to the top in this round, but Wheaton's wins against regionally ranked were better than Salsibury's, specificially a win against UW-Oshkosh which stood out. Wheaton was selected.

18th pick: UW-Stevens Point comes onto the board at this point. Picking from Eastern Connecticut, Brockport, New Jersey City, Salisbury, UW-Stevens Point, Centre, La Roche, Whitworth. Salisbury, having been very close to being selected at 17, was taken at 18.

19th pick: Johns Hopkins replaces Salisbury from the Middle Atlantic here. Picking from Eastern Connecticut, Brockport, Ramapo, Johns Hopkins, UW-Stevens Point, Centre, La Roche, Whitworth, the crew took La Roche. La Roche was the best of the higher winning percentage teams, while Ramapo is looked at as the best of the teams with high strength of schedule. 

Let's take a second to discuss the candidacy of Whitworth, which has been hanging out here being unselected. Whitworth has a record that is comparable to others here, but has just one win against a regionally ranked opponent -- Johns Hopkins, at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. That goes with three losses to Whitman. Centre has one win against a regionally ranked opponent in Washington & Lee. 

20th pick: Mount Union comes onto the board from the Great Lakes. Picking from Eastern Connecticut, Brockport, Ramapo, Johns Hopkins, UW-Stevens Point, Centre, Mount Union, Whitworth. This last pick can always be difficult. We aren't dealing with a lot of head-to-head competition here, for sure. But Whitworth defeated Johns Hopkins, as mentioned, so we can eliminated JHU. And we can eliminate Brockport because of the 11 losses. UW-Stevens Point, at 18-9, is right at the very bottom of where schools are usually considered, with a .667 winning percentage. 

Mount Union, new to the board, has some decent measureables, but also has a really low non-conference strength of schedule, which is something the committee can look at this year. We used that to eliminate them from consideration here. We were back to the winning percentage vs. strength of schedule debate. 

And here's some more background on where we think the committee is going this year. In recent seasons, the men's basketball committee had been using a formula which said, basically, that .030 of a difference in strength of schedule was equivalent to two wins -- as in, someone 21-6 with a .530 SOS would be seen as the same as someone 23-4 with a .500 SOS. However, they were told to no longer do this in 2019. With that in mind, we feel as if we have observed teams with better records but less impressive SOS numbers favored in the regional rankings.

And that's why we end up with Centre here. And why we took La Roche in the previous round. Last year at this time, Ramapo would likely be picked. 

So there you go. Our projected 20 at-large bids go to Augustana, Randolph-Macon, Hamilton, Williams, UW-Oshkosh, Loras, Marietta, York (Pa.), St. Thomas, Wooster, Rochester, NJCU, Capital, MIT, Plattsburgh State, Middlebury, Wheaton (Ill.), Salisbury, La Roche and Centre.

Here's how we would pair them up:

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The map doesn't work too well to help us this year. No runner-up from the Northwest Conference qualifies to make things obvious for the committee in the northwest. Nebraska Wesleyan's rise makes things challenging because the Prairie Wolves are ... well, in Nebraska, where there are no other D-III schools. It's a challenge to get four schools to each of those places, but here's what we ended up with.

Bracket 1

at Whitman: Whitman vs. Texas Lutheran, Pomona-Pitzer vs. UT-Dallas
at Swarthmore: Swarthmore vs. Salem State, Nichols vs. Morrisville State
at Christopher Newport: CNU vs. Farmingdale, New Jersey City vs. Alfred
at Hamilton: Hamilton vs. Albertus Magnus, Plattsburgh State vs. Penn State-Behrend

Whitman is off on an island, as longtime observers know. Whitman isn't going to have three teams flown its direction for the second weekend, but since we have to put Whitman into a plane for the round of 16 (if Whitman advances), we are sending them all the way East. This is something that should be taken advantage of.

Bracket 2

at Skidmore*: Amherst vs. Husson, Keene State vs. Skidmore. (We believe the Amherst women will host a first-weekend pod)
at Oswego State: Oswego vs. Gwynedd Mercy, Williams vs. Emerson
at Rowan: Rowan vs. Mitchell, MIT vs. Middlebury
at Randolph-Macon: Randolph-Macon vs. Baruch, Wooster vs. Salisbury

Bracket 3

at Nebraska Wesleyan: Nebraska Wesleyan vs. Eureka, St. Thomas vs. Northwestern (Minn.)
at Emory: Emory vs. Sewanee, Guilford vs. Maryville
at North Central (Ill.): North Central vs. Chatham, Loras vs. Baldwin Wallace
at St. John's: St. John's vs. Aurora, Wheaton (Ill.) vs. UW-Platteville

Bracket 4

at Augustana: Augustana vs. Albion, Capital vs. Hanover
at Marietta: Marietta vs. Rosemont, Rochester vs. Arcadia
at Wittenberg: Wittenberg vs. Moravian, York (Pa.) vs. DeSales
at Lake Forest*: UW-Oshkosh vs. Lake Forest, La Roche vs. Centre (We believe the UW-Oshkosh women will host a first-weekend pod)

The inability to cross teams over from the west side to the east side is always a frustration. We would not want to have this many good teams on the same side of the bracket, however, we think we can avoid true Bracket of Death scenarios by flying the Whitman winner out to the east side. A Final Four of, say, Augustana/Oshkosh, Nebraska Wesleyan, Whitman and Amherst/Randolph-Macon would be a pretty good foursome.