Our projected 2014 NCAA field

Will the Ithaca Bombers have a chance to return to Appleton this year?
d3photography.com file photo by Larry Radloff

The last of the automatic bids was handed out on Sunday afternoon and the NCAA committee met and made its deliberations as to who the two Pool B and 14 Pool C teams would be.

Meanwhile, our own mock NCAA committee was doing the same thing. We took all of the same data the NCAA looks at and went through the same process. Our group, made up of D3baseball.com writers, contributors and people with knowledge of the selection process, sat down on the phone to do the same thing.

That is, namely, the impossible: Construct the perfect bracket.

The results of the NCAA’s official selection committee discussions generally are released overnight, sometime between midnight and dawn. Here’s what we think they should do. What we think the committee will do, in some cases, is a completely different result.

Projected Pool B bids (2 bids)
Case Western Reserve

This was among the easiest discussion points of the evening. Three teams in Pool B have a .750 or better winning percentage vs. Division III schools. All of those have a strength of schedule at .560 or better. All have multiple wins against regionally ranked opponents. The third team here is Birmingham-Southern. What puts Emory ahead of B-SC is a head-to-head record of 2-1, and what puts Case ahead of B-SC is 10 wins vs. regionally ranked opponents.

Never fear, though – we’ll discuss B-SC again later.

Which bubble team is least likely to make the regionals?
Concordia (Texas)

Projected Pool C bids (14 bids)
The first six teams we put in just on general acclamation. We all knew these six would get in the field eventually and it would have been a poor use of our time to discuss which order. So we list these six teams for you alphabetically: Kean, Marietta, Moravian, Shenandoah, Southern Maine and UW-Stevens Point.

The other eight teams were much more difficult to determine.

At this point, the teams on the board are Washington University, Rutgers-Camden, Heidelberg, UW-La Crosse, Amherst, Ithaca, Birmingham-Southern and George Fox. Seeing a head-to-head game between two teams of any eight on the board is relatively rare, and that lifted Washington University (over V-SC) into our projected field. Heidelberg was also a strong contender, with nine wins vs. regionally ranked opponents. Birmingham-Southern didn’t have to wait long, thanks in part to having a win vs. Emory on its resume.

Something we should remember about how the committee considered games against regionally ranked opponents. The published critieria lists “results vs. regionally ranked opponents” – this is not the same as “record vs. regionally ranked opponents.” Sometimes, having a large number of games vs. regionally ranked opponents is helpful. Sometimes, it’s who you beat. So if two teams are both 5-5 vs. regionally ranked opponents, look at who those games are against. If one of those teams has a couple of wins against a No. 1 or No. 2 team in a region and the other doesn’t, that is a significant piece of data to consider and the committee does do so.

This brings us to talking about George Fox. As one of our committee members noted, Linfield played 33 games against Division III opponents all year and only lost three of them. Two were to George Fox. And that is the major reason we put George Fox in our projected field. Also, it often seems that we end up considering West Region at-large teams who have a strength of schedule close to .500. George Fox, at .536, is a good bit better than that.

That left us with four spots. We went with Baldwin Wallace next. There’s a lot of talk about whether the committee will take four OAC teams, but generally, the committee doesn’t look at teams in that context. Teams are considered, not conferences. Baldwin Wallace also had one of those best wins on the board, having split four games with Marietta. Their 11 wins vs. regionally ranked opponents was the best on the board.

We had also had a lot of discussion about a cluster of three at-large teams in the New England regional rankings and it was very important how we ordered Amherst, Salem State and Tufts. As one committee member said, the bubble line ran right through those teams. Tufts has an argument as having the better criteria in the New England rankings but Amherst has the better criteria to get it selected into the NCAA field because of its .559 strength of schedule. If the committee ranks Tufts or Salem State ahead of Amherst, then it’s possible none of those three teams moves on. Amherst also has two head-to-head wins vs. Rutgers-Camden and that puts Amherst in our bracket.

Down to two spots. Rutgers-Camden is sitting on the board with a .568 strength of schedule. Among teams on the board, only UW-La Crosse has a better SOS, but UW-L is also 4-12 vs. regionally ranked opponents. That’s probably too many losses and not enough wins. La Crosse beat Whitewater, but that was on the fifth attempt. (And there was a sixth meeting, which La Crosse also lost.) Too many losses. Rutgers-Camden beat Rowan one out of three and beat Kean two out of three and we liked Rutgers-Camden for this spot.

That leaves one spot. On the board, Augustana, Alvernia, Wooster, UW-La Crosse, Salem State, Ithaca, Rhodes and Concordia (Texas). The SOS is too low to really consider Augie and Concordia, while Wooster is down this low in the Mideast, below so many OAC teams, because its resume isn’t particularly great. Salem State has a good win vs. Southern Maine but was 1-4 vs. Worcester State. Good thing Worcester dropped out of our mock New England regional rankings. And Salem State has a loss to Wooster, so they are not getting in ahead of Wooster. Concordia (Texas) has one win out of conference of note, vs. Trinity (Texas), and lost at home to Letourneau in the ASC tournament.

When we get down to Ithaca and Rhodes as our final two, we have two fairly identical resumes. Ithaca is 4-4 vs. regionally ranked opponents and Rhodes is 6-4. Ithaca only got 32 games in this season but has a better winning percentage. But Ithaca has only beaten teams behind it in the regional rankings: three wins against the New York No. 4 and one against the New York No. 6. Rhodes has a win against the New England No. 2, two against the Central No. 3, one vs. the South No. 3, one vs. the South No. 4 and one vs. the Central No. 6.

That’s the reason why we mentioned earlier about the meaning of “results vs. regionally ranked opponents.” It was enough to give Rhodes our final spot.

We don’t have as much of a geography problem as we’ve had in the past in putting regionals together. Although the South Regional is in an extreme corner of the region, there are enough teams that can drive there. And the NCAA committee has said in the past that it wants to keep its top two seeds in each region “at home” even if it means a flight. We honored that, even if we didn't automatically seed each of those teams 1-2 in the region.

Here’s what our regionals look like:

New England Regional
1. Eastern Connecticut
2. Southern Maine
3. Endicott
4. MIT
5. Wesleyan
6. Worcester State
7. St. Joseph's (Maine)
8. Castleton State 

New York Regional
1. Cortland State
2. Kean
3. Amherst
4. Farmingdale State
5. Keystone
6. Stevens
7. Union
8. Mitchell 

Mid-Atlantic Regional
1. Moravian
2. Rowan
3. Rutgers-Camden
4. Salisbury
5. Widener
6. Susquehanna
7. Misericordia
8. Haverford

Mideast Regional
1. Marietta
2. Case Western Reserve
3. Heidelberg
4. La Roche
5. Adrian
6. DePauw
7. Rose-Hulman
8. Penn State-Berks

Midwest Regional
1. UW-Whitewater
2. St. Thomas
3. Concordia-Chicago
4. UW-Stevens Point
5. St. Scholastica
6. Thomas More

Central Regional
1. Webster
2. Buena Vista
3. Washington U.
4. Illinois Wesleyan
5. Baldwin Wallace
6. St. Norbert

South Regional
1. Shenandoah
2. Emory
3. Birmingham-Southern
4. Bridgewater
5. Rhodes
6. Covenant

West Regional
1. Linfield
2. Cal Lutheran
3. Trinity (Texas)
4. George Fox
5. LeTourneau
6. John Carroll 

With only five West teams qualifying, someone needed to be added to this regional. Usually that spot is given to solving a problem. For us, it was finding a way to put the four OAC teams in the field without having more than two in any given regional. We could have easily sent JCU on a bus to Whitewater and put someone like St. Norbert or Thomas More on a plane to Portland, but we like the thought of the lowest-ranked OAC team going West.

The committee might not agree with us as to who that fourth OAC team is, but we offer this up as a great possibility for the tournament.