Bracket Breakdown: NCAA Division III Women
by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com
Should Cortland hold serve in the first two rounds, it could meet Hamilton in the quarterfinals with upstate New York bragging rights and a final four bid on the line.
© Jim O'Connor
The NCAA Division III women's tournament expanded to 31 teams, but only two make the trip for the first time, and they're in the same corner of the bracket. Redlands, which heads down the road to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Adrian, which visits Gettysburg, both reached the tournament for the first time and would face each other if they spring first-round upsets.
Trinity defeated Colby in the NESCAC title game Sunday and earned the top seed for the NCAA tournament. The Bantams get a bye into the second round, which they will host.
Last Team In
The Bulldogs lost three of their final five, and four of their final seven games, but opened the season with nine straight wins and finished ranked No. 3 in the West region. They won't have to travel far for their first-round game.
First Team Out
The Blue Jays were ranked 16th by the NCAA and sixth in the Metro region, but find themselves outside the tournament after losing by 10 to Messiah in the MAC final. Elizabethtown had four losses, all against top-12 teams, but ultimately missed out due to strength of schedule.
The Lions have been the top-ranked team in Division III for most of the season, but did not earn the tournament's top seed and first-round bye. That went to fellow unbeaten Trinity, a team that certainly has credence at the top after it ran the table in the NESCAC. What can't be argued is that TCNJ's route to the semifinals -- Catholic and Franklin and Marshall loom -- is brutal. Get through that, and Division III's only other unbeaten, Trinity, might await in the semifinals.
Best First-Round Matchup
Babson at Bowdoin
Babson has a history of upsetting the NESCAC in the NCAAs, eliminating Williams last season and Trinity in 2008. The Beavers went 0-4 against the league this year but have been on fire lately, winning seven straight since losing to Tufts on April 5. Bowdoin's actually lost to fewer NESCAC teams than Babson. The Polar Bears lost for the third time this season on Saturday, falling 14-7 to Colby in the NESCAC semifinals. Both teams are battle-tested.
The committee rewarded the Athenas with a first-round game in California, but they'll have to face local rival Redlands for the third time this season. CMS beat Redlands by 11 at home in early April, but a few weeks earlier Redlands pushed the visiting CMS to the brink before falling 17-16. If the Athenas get past Redlands for the third time, they go from upset watch to upset threat. Even with a cross-country road trip, few will look forward to playing CMS, an unknown team to many back east.
Easiest Title Route
The defending champs already defeated four of their seven potential quarterfinal opponents and two of the teams they haven't played, Redlands and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, will have to travel 2,700 miles for the second round. Only Gettysburg, which Salisbury beat by eight in last season's semifinals, poses a real threat to the Sea Gulls' return to the Final Four.
Five Burning Questions
1. How will the five NESCAC teams fare?
Trinity earned a first-round bye, but its reward for surviving the NESCAC unbeaten might be a second-round game against Middlebury, a team it only beat by one in the regular season. There are five NESCAC teams in the tournament, but with potential second-round games pitting Middlebury against Trinity, Bowdowin against Stevens, Tufts against Cortland and Colby against Hamilton, there might only be one conference squad still standing Sunday.
2. Who's the best team in upstate New York?
With respect to tournament teams Ithaca and Brockport, we're talking about Cortland and Hamilton here. Cortland beat Hamilton 12-9 on March 22, the third win in what is now a 16-game winning streak. Hamilton won 15 straight after losing to Cortland. If the teams can hold serve in their first two games, they'll face off in a huge quarterfinal game with local bragging rights and a trip to the final four on the line.
3. Can Adrian's offense get past Gettysburg's
Tournament newcomer Adrian brings its Division III-best 18.75 points per game to Gettysburg on Wednesday. Goalie Maddie Coleman and Gettysburg average 6.44 goals against per game, sixth-fewest in Division III. Adrian has won 13 straight and has topped 20 goals in nine of its past 11 games. In early-season losses to NCAA tournament teams Christopher Newport and Salisbury, the Bulldogs scored 17 and 15 goals, respectively. Gettysburg has allowed only two teams to reach double figures, and is one of just two teams to hold TCNJ to single-digit scoring. One style will win out Wednesday.
4. Does Franklin and Marshall avenge its spring break
Messiah hosts North Coast champion Denison in the first round, the same day Franklin and Marshall hosts Skyline champ Montclair State. If both teams win at home, it will set up be a rematch of March 10, when Messiah upset then No. 4 F&M 10-9 in overtime. Each team has lost only once since that game and rank as two of Division III's top-five stingiest defenses.
5. Will Stevens conquer New England?
Stevens opens at home against Bridegwater State, with the winner taking on the winner of Bowdoin-Babson in Hartford. Trinity and Middlebury wait as potential quarterfinal foes. Stevens has had success in New York and New Jersey, but has lost three of its past four against the NESCAC, including a 17-7 loss to Middlebury this year and a 17-9 loss to Trinity in last season's NCAAs. If the Ducks want to reach the semifinals, they'll likely have to defeat three New England teams, unless fellow Empire 8 member Ithaca can upset Middlebury or Trinity.