By Mike Baca
Originally posted on http://www.bitobaca.com
In early November there are 38 teams in the Western Region that have designs at earning a bid to the NCAA Division-II Men’s Basketball Tournament. In a little more than three weeks only EIGHT teams from the West Region will have qualified for the madness that comes in March.
Those eight squads come from the Great Northwest Conference (11 teams), the Pacific West Conference (14 teams) and the California Collegiate Athletic Association (13 teams.)
It is not an enviable endeavor for the NCAA West Region Committee. This group is a mixture of coaches and athletic administrators that are tasked with crunching a specific set of criteria to determine the best eight teams in the region. This criteria is multi-pronged and multi-faceted and is designed to take the human element out of the equation. Here are the criteria for the teams wanting to make the Division-II Men’s NCAA Tournament……
In-Region winning %
D-II Strength of Schedule (SOS)
D-II Common Opponents
For every Division-II sport there are THREE ADDED criteria. For men’s basketball they are as follows……
Performance Indicator – this is a 23-point system based on wins and losses versus teams with records at or below .000-.249/.250-.499/.500-749 and .750 and above. (An example…….a win on the road against a team that is 20-1 is the best win you can have in Division-II. The P.I. will give that team the optimum amount of points for that victory. With that said, if you lose to a team that is 2-20 that is the worst loss you can have.)
Results vs ranked D-II opponents. This category is only applicable AFTER the first regional rankings are released. A team will have their records considered if they have been ranked in the TOP-10 of the regional rankings during the ranking period. (An example…..if Team A is ranked at #10 in the first installment of the regional rankings and then they fall out of the rankings in subsequent polls, how Team B does against Team A will be considered for this criteria.)
RPI is won/lost record, opponents strength of schedule (SOS) and opponents’ opponents (SOS)
For the purposes of this blog we are not going to break down all eight categories, but we will give you a general overview based on certain criteria that the committee must consider.
Contrary to what many may think this is a numbers based strict criteria that is designed to get the best eight teams from every region. When the process ends there are usually a few teams that are distraught that their name wasn’t called, but most of the time there was something they could have done about it. If you want to go to the NCAA Tournament its’ pretty simple…….WIN !
Pet Peeve. Remember when analyzing teams, wins against teams that ARE NOT Division-II teams DO NOT COUNT. They are basically scrimmages. The committee does not take Division-I, NAIA or Division-III wins into account. So, remember, schedule those cupcakes at your own peril……..
Below are 17 teams that I believe are vying for 8 spots in the Division-II West Regional. Six of these teams are in real good positions, but all of these teams realize they could be bounced from the rankings after the three respective conference tournaments in the GNAC, Pac-West and CCAA. The winners of those tournaments in two-and-a-half weeks get the AQ (automatic qualifier) into the NCAA Tournament. This means if you are sitting in the bottom half of the regional rankings and you are bounced from your conference tourney, you better hope there are not upsets in other conferences that could knock you out.
Alright let’s look at the 17 teams that are in the mix……
WESTERN OREGON WOLVES- The Wolves are ranked number one in the nation and I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be ranked number one in the West Region. They have been virtually flawless all season long. With D-II and D-II in region records of 19-1 and a season sweep of perennial power Seattle Pacific, their resume is as close to a clean sheet as you get. They lost to Central Washington and D-I Oregon, and that’s it. The Wolves are 8-1 versus +.500 teams, 11-2 on the road. They have a huge road-trip taking on Anchorage and Alaska this weekend. Barring an Alaskan meltdown, I don’t see them falling from their perch. Unless they really stumble, we could all be heading to Monmouth for the Men’s 2016 West Regional.
CHICO STATE- The Wildcats sit atop the CCAA by virtue of their big road win at UC San Diego last weekend. The Wildcats are 18-3 against D-II and D-II regional foes and have not lost to a sub .500 team all year. Chico is 7-3 against plus .500 teams and is 10-2 on the road. They play three of their final four at home, but two of those games are this weekend against Pomona and Humboldt. Pomona dealt Chico one of their lone losses in early January. Chico has taken care of business, and they have put themselves in a good spot with two weeks to go.
UC SAN DIEGO- The Tritons let a golden chance to put a strangle-hold on the CCAA regular season title slip through their fingers last Friday, but that doesn’t mean this team isn’t as close to a lock for the regional as both Western Oregon and Chico. The Tritons have the most plus .500 D-II wins in the region along with Seattle-Pacific at NINE. They are 9-3 against good teams. They are tied with the Wolves and Cal Baptist with 19 D-II wins at 19-4. The Tritons are 10-1 on the road. The one loss on the schedule that is against a sub .500 team is against Monterey Bay, but the Otters don’t figure to be a sub .500 team when the season ends. In my opinion the Tritons have nothing to worry about. I think they are in, the only question is whether they will be wearing their home or road jersey in the first round of the NCAA’s.
SEATTLE PACIFIC- This perennial power is 17-6 against D-II and in-region opponents. There is not one bad loss on their resume. All their losses have come against quality opponents. The Falcons have played the most difficult schedule BY FAR of anyone in the region. 15 of their 24 games have come against teams over .500. In those games they are 9-6. They are also an impressive 10-3 on the road including a big win at Chico in November. I like teams, check that, I LOVE teams that schedule good teams and I really love teams that schedule good teams on the road. SPU is a no brainer in my opinion. They have put up good to great numbers against quality opponents. They deserve a return trip to the dance.
CAL BAPTIST- Speaking of difficult schedules, here are the Lancers. With a 19-6 record against D-II opponents and a 16-6 in region record Cal Baptist is a much deserving squad. Only SPU has played more plus .500 teams. the Lancers are 7-5 against plus .500 clubs. Cal Baptist has only played 10 road games and they are 5-5, although they will finish the season on the road against some of the bottom teams in the Pac West. They are looking for their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Right now they are trying to not be in the bottom three in the final regional ranking, they don’t want to be a team edged out if upsets occur in the conference tournaments. With no bad losses, the Lancers should buy their dancing shoes.
AZUSA PACIFIC- Azusa Pacific is 16-6 against D-II opponents sweeping Cal Baptist and Dixie State on the year. They are also an impressive 8-4 against plus .500 teams. They also went on the road and did some work going 8-3. Oddly they have two losses against teams that could finish below .500 (Fresno Pacific & Dominican) and that might hurt their power rating. They have a tough home game against Concordia and then head to the Hawaiian islands for three games. This is a tough stretch. It will help their power rating but if they lose two or three games down the stretch, the LOOKING GOOD label will turn into a bubble team real fast. Pivotal 10 days for Azusa Pacific.
BETTER THAN BUBBLE
CAL POLY POMONA- I really wanted to put Pomona in the LOOKING GOOD column but those losses a month ago to Cal State Los Angeles and Dominguez Hills just stand out like a thumb that was slammed into a car door. The Broncos are 16-5 against D-II opponents and 15-5 against D-II in region teams. When they play plus .500 teams they figure it out going 6-2. They have good wins against Chico and Azusa Pacific. They are also a glittering 9-3 on the road. If they beat Chico this Friday night on the road and sweep the season series from the Wildcats, book the Broncos reservations. I have always said, bad losses hurt worse than good wins feel good. Despite the strong resume, those two losses to teams with a combined 15 wins are still hurting Pomona. They look like a tournament team. They feel like a tournament team, but they still have some work to do.
ALASKA ANCHORAGE- The Seawolves have a strong case for a bid. While they only have 14 D-II wins, half of those victories have come against teams with a better than .500 record (7-4 versus plus .500) They are also an impressive 9-4 on the road. While we can’t take their travel considerations into account, that is an impressive number. They do have two bad losses against sub .500 teams (Dominguez Hills & Montana State-Billings) and if they can’t bolster that resume a bit before selection Sunday it could hurt them. They will have a chance to strengthen the ole resume hosting Western Oregon on Saturday and playing at Central Washington next week. Very good numbers but in a stacked West Region, they have some vulnerabilities.
HAWAII PACIFIC- Hawaii Pacific is in a tough spot. On one hand you look at their 17 wins and you consider them a shoo-in for the dance. But when you dig deeper you see a team that only has 13 D-II wins. In my opinion they haven’t done enough with a schedule that hasn’t been as tough as other teams in the Pacific West Conference. It really isn’t their fault that they were only scheduled to play Cal Baptist, Azusa Pacific and Dixie State once this year. But, this crushes their strength of schedule (SOS.) They ended up beating Azusa and Cal Baptist but those are only two of their 4 wins against teams with plus .500 records. They are only 4-5 against good teams. They are 7-6 on the road. I think they need a strong finish to the regular season and deep run in the Pac West Tourney. They also need to hope there aren’t big upsets in the other conference tournaments. Definition of a bubble team…..
DIXIE STATE- After a pedestrian two months of hoops the Red Storm are charging hard, the question is whether it will be enough. Dixie State has won five in a row and all of sudden has put themselves in the conversation. They are 14-8 against D-II opponents and 5-6 against teams with plus .500 records. They can tout that they haven’t lost a game to a sub .500 team all year. Dixie is 6-5 on the road and with three of their final four on the road, they need to keep putting W’s on the board. They will also need a deep run in the conference tournament, but based on history, committees usually like teams that get hot late in the season. Bubbilicious….
CENTRAL WASHINGTON- The Wildcats from Ellensburg have some numbers that make us sit up and take notice, but they also have one that makes us question them as well. Central is 13-6 against D-II opponents but they are only 3-5 against teams with a better than .500 record (3-5.) But, they are the ONLY D-II team to beat Western Oregon. Because of that and their strong 7-4 road record I believe they do deserve consideration. Like Hawaii Pacific and Dixie, Central needs a strong finish and a big time run in their conference tournament. I want to see more wins against teams with a better than .500 record. I am sure the committee wants to see that as well. Big League Chew Bubble Gum…..
HUMBOLDT STATE- Here is another team that on the surface looks like a true contender for an NCAA berth. But FIVE of their 17 wins are not against D-II opponents. This just kills their resume. Non D-II wins don’t count. So, the Jacks only have 12 D-II wins and this doesn’t help their cause. They only have a 4-5 record against plus .500 D-II teams. What does help their cause is they have a win against UC San Diego on the road. They only have one bad loss at Dominguez Hills. If I want to see more from the Jacks, then I would guess so does the committee. They’ll have their chance as they travel to Chico this weekend.
BYU-HAWAII- The Seasiders have had several near misses, and that could cost them a spot in the tournament. A few weeks ago with a one-point lead at Cal Baptist all they had to do was either make a lay-up or dribble the clock out and get fouled. Instead they lost in excruciating fashion at the buzzer. BYU-Hawaii is 12-9 against D-II opponents and in-region. They are only 4-6 against plus .500 teams but they are 6-5 on the road. I watch them and they “look” like a tournament team. But, the resume is a little thin and they have some work to do to firmly state their case. An impressive late season run is imperative, and even with that it may not be enough. They need to eye-ball that automatic qualifier.
SAN FRANCISCO STATE- I put them here because they are 13-9 against D-II opponents but with a sub .500 record at 8-9 in the CCAA I don’t think they can get an at-large berth. They are an impressive 7-4 on the road which helps their power rating. They are 4-5 against teams with a plus .500 record. If the Gators want to those alligator zapatos and hit the dance floor they probably need to beat UC San Diego this weekend in La Jolla. If not the resume is just too thin. Their best chance is the automatic qualifier.
SONOMA STATE- I am honestly a little shocked Sonoma State is not better than 13-10 against D-II teams. They are also only 8-9 in the CCAA. Sonoma beat Chico at home and then took them overtime. But, with a 3-7 record against plus .500 D-II teams, Sonoma needs to win the CCAA Tourney. they have three losses against sub .500 teams and that hurts their cause as well.
POINT LOMA- The Sea Lions are 11-10 against D-II opponents and are worth a mention but they are only 2-8 versus teams over .500. That will not cut it. They are an impressive 6-4 on the road, but again this is a team that will need an automatic qualifier to get in.
MONTEREY BAY- I know the Otters may only be 11-12 but hear me out on this one. The Otters started the season 0-5. I saw them in Monmouth at Thanksgiving and they looked like a rudderless team. No leadership. Saw them 10 days ago and they were a completely different group. They have wins against UC San Diego, at Pomona and against San Marcos. They were up 13 at Chico with 9 minutes to play and frittered that lead away. The Otters are dangerous. The three-headed monster of Evan Zeller, Alex Fertig and Ryan Nitz are legit and when they play together and unselfishly they are potent. I don’t like including teams under .500 on the bubble, but if one qualifies, this is it. They can’t get in without the automatic qualifier. The dangerous thing is they probably know this and are gearing up for the stretch run.
BITOBACA WEST REGION RANKING
UC San Diego
Cal Poly Pomona
NOTE… I had Cal Baptist ranked higher than Azusa Pacific, but since Azusa swept Cal Baptist and they are ranked next to each other in the regional rankings Azusa gets the higher ranking. By my understanding the committee is required to put Azusa higher than Cal Baptist in cases like this based on head-to-head match-ups and the decided advantage Azusa has on Cal Baptist.
It should also be noted that Concordia from Irvine and Cal State San Marcos are ineligible for the post-season since they are new entrants into their respective conferences. They should both be eligible for post-season play next year.
What does my ranking mean ? Absolutely nothing ! Just my opinion. Besides, there is so much basketball still to be played these rankings will be in constant motion. One thing I do know…..there are nearly 20 teams that still have that dream of making a deep March run and regardless of how their seasons have gone so far, they can still make that dream a reality.
We will update this blog when the OFFICIAL rankings are released ! Enjoy March Madness one of our favorite times of the year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Baca is broadcasting Chico State men’s and women’s basketball for his 19th season