MCLA Division II First Round Breakdown
We delved into the Division I picks with the final installment of Schooling Schooler, but what about the MCLA Division II contests in Greenville? Here are my thoughts on how the junior circuit will play out in the first round of the tournament, which begins on Monday.
No. 16 Western Oregon vs. No. 1 St. Thomas – 10 a.m.
If the PNCLL had a pulse, Western Oregon would be a footnote at this point, but the rest of the league generously rolled over and allowed the proud Wolves program to grab the AQ despite losing seven consecutive games at one point. And judging by the WOU roster, the Wolves will be in Greenville with 15 field players and a pair of goalies.
Back in the infancy of Division II, I remember watching Western Oregon and Harding square off in Dallas with a combined roster of about 30 players. Alas, there has been some maturation of D-II from those days, and the plausibility of an iron-man squad advancing past the first round has long since expired.
I'll bet the Wolves will give it a good run for a quarter or so, but the attrition rate will be just too great. Tommies, 17-6.
No. 15 Washington U. vs. No. 2 Grand Valley State – 10 a.m.
GVSU has shown very few weaknesses over the past two years, but if there is one that we can easily pinpoint, it is teams fare better against the Lakers when they've seen them once before. The most glaring case of this was last year when Davenport finally figured the Lakers out in the third meeting at the national semifinals, but we can see it this year, as well. After waxing Indiana Tech by 10 during the regular season, GVSU beat the Warriors by a lone goal in the CCLA championship. At an even more micro level, St. John's couldn't figure out the Lakers for the first 30 minutes in their neutral field game in Florida, falling behind 9-3 in the first half, only to shutout GVSU in the second in a 9-6 loss.
So what does this mean for Monday? Well, it means Jack Dumsa and his crew will hang a 20-spot on Washington U. The Bears aren't a terrible team, even with their seed, but they won't be able to keep up with GVSU's pace in this game sight unseen. Even better news for the Lakers is if the tourney plays out to seed, they won't run into a team they've played before this season. GVSU, 21-6.
No. 14 St. Mary's vs. No. 3 Westminster – 10:30 a.m.
One always has to take MCLA statistics with a grain of salt, but if we are to believe the box score from the first time these two teams met, Westminster took 20 shots and scored on 10 of them. Meanwhile, St. Mary's took 17 shots and found the net three times. These numbers would lead some to conclude that the Gaels had a chance with some better shooting and goaltending. That's misleading.
If you look at the arc of their schedules, the Griffins are a better team now than they were in the first meeting on Feb. 28 while St. Mary's has been on cruise control for the past two months playing the dregs of the RMLC and WCLL. The Gaels earned their admission to the tournament this year, but they won't be nearly as sharp as they need to be to topple Westminster. Goodhands, 13-5.
No. 13 Sam Houston State vs. No. 4 Dayton – 10:30 a.m.
Let's give credit where it's due – Sam Houston broke out of its comfort zone, traveling to Vegas to take on some solid non-conference competition. The Bearkats showed pretty well in Sin City, beating both UC Santa Cruz and Western Washington while losing to Westminster, 15-9. That was also three months ago.
SHSU has filled the interim period with a grab-bag of LSA weaklings, meaning they are once again uniquely unprepared for nationals despite an improved seed. In addition, despite the unquestioned talent on the roster, led by Michael Mann (68g, 50a) and Travis Tabb (53g, 35a), there are only 20 players to battle the ridiculously deep Dayton squad heading to Greenville.
This will have a familiar feel for the Bearkats. Flyers, 18-7.
No. 12 Elon vs. No. 5 St. John's – 1 p.m.
Elon head coach Steve Bailey told me that the Phoenix aren't intimidated by any team. Yeah, it kind of sounds like big talk, but considering the draw that his team received, it might just be true. Elon and St. John's battled on March 4 in Palm Beach, Fla., with the Johnnies pulling out a 9-7 victory. Other than an unfortunate second quarter (which SJU won, 4-0), the Phoenix went toe-to-toe.
Over the course of the season, Elon has proven to be in every game it has played, which should serve it well in the rematch with the Johnnies. "We're not really going to blow anybody out, but we're not going to get too far away from anybody where we're out of the game," said Bailey. "If you're in the national tournament and you're in the game in the fourth quarter, you have to look at that as positive outcome."
No doubt. And with Colin Madden, the Phoenix have a puncher's chance. They won't connect, however. SJU, 8-6.
No. 11 Concordia vs. No. 6 Davenport – 1 p.m.
Here's hoping the powers that be decide to broadcast this contest on Monday because it should be a dandy. Yes, it features the defending championships against a program that has never tasted nationals, but this Eagles squad is dangerous.
In fact, Concordia kind of has a "Davenport, Jr." feel to it, especially with the Canadian influence. Sophomore Josh Fagan (Victoria, B.C.) has 70 goals while classmate Dustin Seguin (Calgary) is the QB with 45 goals and 32 dimes. If the defense can tighten up for the postseason, there's no reason to discount an upset.
I'll ride the champs – I'm thinking 13-11 – but this should be a gem.
No. 10 Grand Canyon vs. No. 7 SCAD – 1:30 p.m.
The contrasting styles of these two teams should make for a great game, possibly one that could eclipse the Davenport-Concordia tilt for "Game of the Day." Grand Canyon is a team based on its stars. Carson Barton (53g, 23a), another Canadian, is a player of the year candidate on attack while the Hunter twins – goalie Andrew and close defender Richard – are near the top at their respective positions.
It begins with defense for SCAD, and they put that on display with gritty wins over Briarcliffe (9-5) and Davenport (7-5). Still, the Bees haven't played in a month because they failed to make their own conference tournament and have that peculiar, 21-14 loss to Palm Beach Atlantic on their resume. That can't be ignored.
I usually lean toward the defensive team in these situations, but I've got a feeling about the 'Lopes, especially Andrew Hunter in between the pipes. GCU pulls the upset, 7-6.
No. 9 North Dakota State vs. No. 8 Briarcliffe – 1:30 p.m.
This is your prototypical eight-nine game – a complete toss-up. Briarcliffe has plenty of experienced talent, but is thin. North Dakota is deep, but incredibly young after graduating a significant class last spring. Depth is definitely a factor in the tournament, but less so in the first round.
NDSU has sophomore Peter Flock (35g, 24a), who is playing superbly right now, along with a veteran netminder in Ryan Freeman (61.9 save percentage). Briarcliffe has Matt Karp (42g, 7a) and an equally experienced goalie in Kevin Collica (56.2 save percentage).
I'll go with NDSU on a hunch, 10-8.