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April 23, 2009

Decoding Pool B

By Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Rudy Williams and his Greensboro teammates are chasing a Pool B bid this year and are benefitted by a win over Goucher. Will it be enough? Unlike years past, it will come down to the final day of the season.
© Greensboro Athletics

Compiling the Pool B field for the men's Division III tournament used to be a slam dunk for the selection committee. Over the past four years, they could just slice the top two or three teams off the North Coast Athletic Conference depending on how many bids were available, and move on to picking Pool C.

Judging by what is floating through the grapevine, the committee will be burning a lot more time figuring out who will fill up the three independent spots this spring.

As a quick primer for those a little muddy on the Pool system: Pool A is for automatic qualifiers (i.e., those that win their conference's dedicated bid to the NCAAs) and Pool C is the at-large group (i.e., those teams that didn't win their league's AQ). Pool B is for unaffiliated (independent) programs and for those programs belonging to a conference that does not have an auto qualifier.

With a week left in the season, I have been told there are still seven teams still in contention for Pool B slots. They are, in alphabetical order:

Denison - Record: 10-1/Best Possible Finish: 13-1
You could actually say there are six teams going for two spots because the Big Red are lead-pipe locks for one of the three. If there was a pejorative perception of the contemporary Pool B entrant, Denison went a long way to dispel it last year, and Mike Caravana's troops may put it to bed completely this year. Bottom line: the Big Red are legit. Yes, the Randolph-Macon loss looks odd, but they obliterated Lynchburg - the same Hornets team that just beat W&L. We'll see how Denison does against Stevenson next Saturday, however, it's safe to say the Big Red are a Pool B squad no one wants to see in their bracket.

Goucher - Record: 9-4/Best Possible Finish: 12-4
The Gophers may seem like they are already out of the mix, but don't be too hasty. While it has losses to Whittier and Greensboro, Goucher does have a win over Wooster, which as we'll see later, could be clutch. In addition, the Gophers have a chance to finish with a 12-4 record with a game against Susquehanna (which they should win comfortably) and potentially two contests in the Landmark playoffs. They might have to navigate their way through both Scranton (who they are already lost to) and Merchant Marine (who has come on of late) - and that would be a big if - but if they accomplish the feat, the Gophers could be next in line.

Greensboro - Record: 10-4/Best Possible Finish: 11-4
Relatively speaking, Greensboro plays a pretty stiff schedule for an independent - the Pride played No. 1 Roanoke, No. 7 W&L and No. 17 Lynchburg - but unfortunately for Dan Cetrone, his team couldn't scrape up any wins out of those contests. This leaves GC in a tough spot, but they do have a win over Goucher. So if the Gophers can take care of business and a couple of things fall into place in the NCAC, the Pride may have a shot. If Greensboro doesn't beat Wesley on Saturday, it would be game over.

Merchant Marine - Record: 9-5/Best Possible Finish: 11-5
Like Goucher, King's Point still has the Landmark tourney remaining. A pair of wins - especially if they can avenge an early-season loss to the Gophers - will go a long way to put the Mariners back in a good position. Are they locked in if that happens? No, they'll need some help - like Wooster beating Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon downing Wooster - but being in the discussion is always nice.

Ohio Wesleyan - Record: 8-4/Best Possible Finish: 10-4
The Battling Bishops look pretty close to a lock now with a 6-1 record in the region, but only two of those wins are against programs with winning records: Adrian (7-5) and Kenyon (6-5). There are two pivotal games to go and if OWU can win both of them, they will put a bid on ice. There is Wooster on Wednesday and Wittenberg next Saturday, both on the road. A loss in either of those contests and the Bishops will be sweating it out on May 3.

Whittier - Record: 7-5/Best Possible Finish: 7-5
Huh? Yes, that was my reaction, as well, when I found out the Poets are still in the mix. While their overall record doesn't jump out at you, they are 4-2 in their region and have a decent strength of schedule. The biggest reason Whittier is still alive is due to their one trump card: its 10-9 win over Goucher in late March. So even though the Poets are in the barn for the regular season, they still have a proxy potentially helping them out.

Wooster - Record: 6-4/Best Possible Finish: 9-4
The Fighting Scots have three games left, starting on Saturday against Wittenberg and followed next week by Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon. If they win them all, it would be tough to keep them out of the dance with a 7-1 in-region record, a decent strength of schedule, and a win over OWU. What they also have - and what will make the committee chase its tail for a long time if things work out just right (or wrong) - is a loss to Goucher. So even if the Scots can take care of their own biz, they could very well be thrown up against the Gophers for the last spot.

In essence, Goucher is the lynchpin to the entire Pool B landscape. If the Gophers lose in the first round of the Landmark tourney and finish with a 10-5 mark, they'll pretty much take Greensboro and Whittier down with them. If Goucher finishes 12-4, the Pride and Poets are players, and Wooster takes a hit.

And around we go.

On the women's side, things aren't quite as complicated, but the sheer number of bids makes things interesting. Five Pool B slots have been made available in the 26-team field this spring. It's a preposterously high number considering how many of the quality Pool Cs will be sitting home this year, but according to the cliché du jour: it is what it is.

I didn't have as much guidance on the women's side - we've reached that weird wormhole in the season where women's coaches don't return my calls; happens every spring - so I'm winging it to some degree.

We'll start out by locking down three of the bids. TCNJ, Catholic and Claremont are in, leaving two to fill. Cazenovia (10-1) and Puget Sound (10-2) have nice records, but the level of competition isn't going to cut it with the committee, leaving Adrian and Colorado College as the likely squads filling out the field.

There is one more team that could push its way in, but it's a long shot. If Drew can win its final three games - which would mean beating Catholic twice in one week - they would finish 11-6 and bump Colorado College.

So with nine days left in the season even the Pool B races are unsettled - a rarity in the last five years - further strengthening my feeling that this is going to be a very odd spring.

Other interesting games this weekend...
W: No. 15 Cortland State (10-5) at Buffalo State (13-1) - 1 p.m., Saturday
Since the dawn of time, the SUNYAC slate has been an annoyance for Cortland - a formality on its way to another NCAA bid. This year, the Red Dragons will have to earn it. Buffalo State has cruised through the league schedule in a similar fashion as Cortland, and now the teams will play for the right to host the four-team conference tourney. I've been pushing the Bengals as a team on the rise all season, and finally they'll get their chance to prove they belong. I think they will at home.

Union's Rough Weekend
The Dutchwomen could be my sleeper heading into the NCAA tournament. With a one-goal loss to No. 2 F&M on the road and two-goal road loss to No. 17 Williams, Union (11-2) is not too far away from perfection and has rattled off nine straight. Whether by a scheduling glitch or scheduling hubris, the Dutchwomen play No. 6 Hamilton (11-1) on Friday night followed by No. 14 William Smith (10-2) on Saturday afternoon - a brutal Liberty League back-to-back. If they navigate that minefield with a pair of wins, Union might be the team to beat in May. A sweep is kind of tough to imagine.

The NESCAC men and women finish up the season on Friday afternoon and then both crank up their conference tournaments on Sunday with the quarterfinal round. The eight teams are set on the men's side, although there will be some jockeying on Friday. The top five women's teams are determined, but there are four teams vying for the final three spots - a logjam that will likely be determined by a tiebreaker formula. You can bet all the other leagues will be keeping an eye on the action as the women have the potential to snap up three at-large bids while the men have grabbed two in each of the past two seasons.

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