November 22, 2013

Getting to know the 2013 men's Sweet 16

By Christan Shirk

Some are familiar faces; some are new and surprising faces, and some are back after a long and even longer absences. And others are not unknowns nor established Sweet 16 regulars. Let's get to know the men's teams that make up this year's Sweet 16.

Who has Sweet 16 experience and how much?  Who are the first-timers?

Franklin & Marshall are into the Sweet 16 for just the second time, and first time since 1981.
Franklin & Marshall College Athletics

Eight of this year’s Sweet 16 participants are repeats from 2012. Amherst has reached sectionals for the fourth straight year meaning their players know nothing less. Montclair St. is here for the third year in a row while Messiah, Loras, and Trinity (Tx.) have advanced to the tournament’s second weekend three of the last four years. York (Pa.), Williams, and Brandeis are the other repeats, and Rutgers-Camden and St. Lawrence are back for the second time in three years. These teams are unlikely to be over-awed and certainly will not be happy just to be here. Players for Rochester, Wartburg, Kenyon, Franklin & Marshall, Rose-Hulman, Westminster (Mo.) have never tasted the Sweet 16, and it will be interesting to see how they respond on the bigger stage.  

Historically, Westminster and Rose-Hulman are the only programs who are in the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. Franklin & Marshall have gone 32 years since their previous and only other Sweet 16 advancement, and on that occasion in 1981, only one win was required for the accomplishment in a tournament field of just twenty-four. Kenyon has gone seventeen years since they last reached this stage in 1996, the start of a run to the championship final which was nearly the last hurrah of what had been one of the top men’s Division III programs in the early- to mid-90’s. Wartburg was to their third straight Sweet 16 back in 2006 and surely hadn't imagined they’d have to wait until 2013 to be back again. Rochester was here in 2009, but that was one season before their current seniors entered the program.

Three teams from last year’s Final Four—Messiah, Loras, Williams—have reached sectionals, with only Ohio Northern failing to advance out of their regional pod. Montclair St. were in the Final Four two years ago and defending champion Messiah also lifted the title in 2010 when this year’s seniors were freshmen. That gives the Falcons a win (2010) and an advancement on penalty kicks (2012) at the Sweet 16 stage in recent years, followed by Elite 8 wins. Montclair’s seniors have a pair of Sweet 16 wins (2011, 2012) and an Elite 8 victory (2011) on their resume. Williams and Loras both won their sectional semifinals a year ago en route to the Final Four—the Ephs needing penalty kicks to advance over conference rival Amherst in their Elite 8 clash; the Duhawks getting the job done in regulation.

Amherst, has won, lost, and been eliminated on penalty kicks at this stage in the past three seasons, falling victim to the penalty kick shootout the lone time they advanced to the sectional final last year. Rutgers-Camden more so and St. Lawrence less so have starters and substitues who were involved in their sectional semifinal wins in 2011 before falling in their Elite 8 matches. Only one player that featured in Trinity’s Sweet 16 upset loss to Lynchburg in 2010 is still around to push for the Tiger’s first Elite 8 berth since 2008. York, who has been no stranger to penalty kick shootouts in tournament competition, was on the losing end for the fifth time in the last eight years when they were bested by Messiah in last year’s Sweet 16 face-off. It’s only the cruel PK elimination that the current Spartan squad was a part of, as the prior two years their suffering came in the form of surprising 1-0 first round losses.

In total, ten of this year’s Sweet 16 teams do not have any experience winning at this stage with their current players. Of the six that do, five (Loras, Amhesrt, Williams, Trinity, and Montclair St.) did so just last year, Montclair also doing so in 2012. Messiah’s Sweet 16 win came back in 2010, but they did advance last year on penalty kicks. Of that group of six, four have experience reaching the Final Four: Messiah, Loras, and Williams last year; Montclair St. in 2011, and Messiah also in 2010. Messiah is the only squad that claimed a national title (2010, 2012).

How did they punch their tickets to the big dance?

How many of the Sweet 16 punched their own ticket with an AQ-winning conference championship? How many had to wait for the committtee’s invite? Let’s have a look.

In their third NCAA tournament appearance the Rose-Hulman men's team has reached the Sweet 16 for the first time.
Rose-Hulman Athletics

AQ via Regular Season (1): Rochester (UAA)

AQ via Conference Tournament (9): Amherst (NESCAC), Franklin & Marshall (Centennial), Loras (IIAC), Rose-Hulman (HCAC), Rutgers-Camden (NJAC), St. Lawrence (Liberty), Trinity (Tx.) (SCAC), Westminster (Mo.) (SLIAC), and York (Pa.) (CAC)

At-large Pool C Berth (6): Brandeis (UAA), Kenyon (NCAC), Messiah (Commonwealth), Montclair State (NJAC), Wartburg (IIAC), Williams (NESCAC)

This list matches with last year's when ten of the teams were automatic qualifiers and six came via an at-large berth. It’s noteworthy that of the conferences represented by the six Pool C teams, four (IIAC, NESCAC, NJAC, and UAA) also have their conference champion (and automatic berth winner) in the Sweet 16.

And what about regular season finish? Do the sixteen teams really represent the best of their respective conferences? Unlike last year when fifteen of the sixteen teams finished first or tied for first in their conference, the composition this year is more varied. 

1st Place in Regular Season Standings (9): Amherst (NESCAC), Loras* (IIAC), Messiah (Commonwealth), Rochester (UAA), Rutgers-Camden (NJAC), St. Lawrence (Liberty), Trinity (SCAC), Wartburg* (IIAC), Westminster* (SLIAC)     (* - tied for first place)

2nd Place (4): Kenyon (NCAC), Montclair St. (NJAC), Rose-Hulman (HCAC), York (CAC)

3rd Place (2): Williams (NESCAC)

5th Place (1): Brandeis (UAA)

Three of the second place finishers were only a half-game, or 2 points, back in the standings (e.g. a tie instead of a win kept them from first place), and York finished a full game back due to their head-to-head loss to first place Salisbury. Three of the nation’s strongest and deepest conferences—the Centennial, NESCAC and UAA—are the ones which had teams outside the top two advance to the Sweet 16. Furthermore, three teams that didn’t finish first in the regular season went on to win the conference tournament (Franklin & Marshall, Rose-Hulman and York). So really, twelve of the Sweet 16 teams have a claim as being the best from their conference, and of the remaining four teams, three (Brandeis, Montclair St., Williams) have their conference champion in the Sweet 16 as well.

Conference power shift, parity, abberation . . . or poor at-large selections?

Unlike most years when the UAA and NESCAC might get three or four at-large berths, no conference has more than three participants in this year’s NCAA tournament. But five conferences did have two teams selected for at-large berths in addition to their automatic berth this time around, and some are not traditionally thought of as being among the strongest/deepest conferences. How did those conferences perform? In hind-sight, were the extra selections justified? You decide.

Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC): WNEC (AQ), Gordon, Roger Williams

None of the CCC teams advanced to the Sweet 16 despite being place in three different first/second round pods, an avoidance of each other that most conferences getting two or more at-large berths are not afforded. If you ignored the NCAA regional rankings, it was a surprise that this conference got three teams into the tournament. They were always going to get one at-large berth after Gordon and their gaudy 18-2-0 was bounced from the conference playoffs by eventual champion WNEC, but a third team was made possible when only one or two NESCAC teams distinguished themselves from the pack. All three CCC teams did win their first round matches, which was better than most would have predicted. Their 0-3 record in the second round was also largely expected, with two loses being to the NESCAC representatives.

Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC): Loras (AQ), Wartburg, Luther

The top three IIAC schools finished tied for first during their regular season, and when Loras won the post-season tournament, the other two garnered at-large selections. Wartburg’s season was hard to gage with it slew of 1-goal wins and loses against a mix of superior and inferior competition. But they dispatched of Dominican 4-0 in round one, then dominated Hope (yet needing double-overtime to get their reward). Luther was certainly a bubble team, but beat Lake Forest 3-0 before having to face conference rival Loras to advance to the Sweet 16. The Norse matched Loras on the scoreboard for 110 minutes, but lost the penalty kick shootout. Who knows if different bracketing would have meant all three IIAC teams reaching sectionals or only one.

New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC): Rutgers-Camdem (AQ), Montclair St., Rutgers-Newark

Rutgers-Newark wasn’t a given for an at-large berth, and certainly needed that big 4-1 conference semifinal win over Montclair St. to get on the right side of the bubble. Their 3-1 first round loss to Roger Williams certainly didn’t support their selection while helping to justify the CCC getting a second at-large berth. And the questions raised by Montclair’s ignominious exit from the NJAC playoffs at the hands of Rutgers-Newark were not answered at all when it took 88 minutes to score on Misericordia, perhaps the most questionable at-large selection, but only 42 seconds to concede the equalizer, requiring penalty kicks to avoid the first round upset. They did just enough in their Top 25 dual with host Carnegie Mellon to advance from the pod with a 1-0 win, playing a man down for the final hour after opening the scoring while at even-strength. Rutgers-Camden had a first-round bye and then squashed Lycoming 4-0 as they cruised into the Sweet 16. 

North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC): Ohio Wesleyan (AQ), Kenyon, Oberlin

Kenyon, Oberlin and DePauw had nervous waits to see if the men’s committee would extend their seasons another week with at-large invites; the NCAC would get two extra spots with DePauw being the odd team out. The brackets also separated the three teams such that the earliest they could meet would be a Kenyon-Ohio Wesleyan sectional final. Of course, it can’t come to that following the Bishops’ shocking second round ouster by Rose-Hulman after sitting out round one with a bye. Oberlin appeared to get placed in an easier pod than Kenyon, but were fortunate not to go one-and-out, much less win 2-0, after being dominated by Oneonta St., another of the bubble teams selected. They wouldn’t be as fortunate against Rochester in round two and fell 3-0. Kenyon’s path to the Sweet 16 would require beating a pair of ranked teams, and that is exactly what the Lords did, pushing aside Ohio Northern (perhaps a bit overrated) and Wheaton (Ill.) (inconsistent in playing to their potential). It was expected that the NCAC would be represented in the Sweet 16, but by Ohio Wesleyan.

University Athletic Association (UAA):  Rochester (AQ), Carnegie Mellon, Brandeis

Accustomed to getting three or four at-large selections, this year a case could have been made to only have two UAA schools in the dance given Brandeis only finished fifth in the conference standings. If the NESCAC had a couple more top instead of mid-table teams and the other New England conferences had had more clear cut top teams, Brandeis may have found themselves much further down the regional rankings and, combined with their conference position, left out of the tournament. Maybe. But they not only got picked, they have a pair of tournament wins at home to match the progression of last year’s squad that overall played better than this year’s. Rochester also won their two home matches to join the Sweet 16, but sectionals was expected for both given the opposition. Carnegie Mellon on the other hand was not a favorite against Montclair St. in the second round, although given the Montclair’s struggles in their previous two games, the Tartans had to like their chances and did outshoot the Red Hawks in the 1-0 loss. Very nearly 3-for-3 for the UAA conference.

The Sweet 16 versus the Top 25 Rankings

How well did the D3soccer.com Men’s Top 25 panel do ranking teams this season? How did the coaches (NSCAA) do with their rankings? Certainly tournament results are not the best measure of the rankings as upsets do happen and bracketing can force top teams into early encounters. But for fun and curiosity, let’s see how the two rankings stack up to the Sweet 16.

First off, there were four differences between who was ranked (regardless of position): D3soccer.com ranked DePauw, Randolph, Wartburg, and St. Scholastica, while the NSCAA ranked Washington U., Puget Sound, WNEC, and Calvin. The two rankings agreed on eight of the Top 10 teams, with D3soccer.com opting to include Salisbury and Rochester while the NSCAA favored Wheaton (Ill.) and UW-Oshkosh. Looking at teams’ positions, the biggest differences were that D3soocer.com rated Montclair St. (#13 vs. #22), Ohio Northern (#12 vs. #19), DePauw (#17 vs. NR), and Randolph (#18 vs. NR) significantly higher than the NSCAA, and the NSCAA rated Wheaton (Ill.) (#8 vs. #14), UW-Oshkosh (#9 vs. #16), Texas-Dallas (#12 vs. #21), and Washington U. (#18 vs. NR) significantly higher than D3soccer.com. So who’s ranked teams showed better in the first weekend of the tournament?


Westminster (Mo.), one of the men's Sweet 16 surprises, was not on anyone's radar before the tournament.
Photo by Caleb Williams, d3photography.com

Twelve of the Sweet 16 teams were ranked in the D3soccer.com week 11 Top 25, the final ranking prior to the tournament, and eleven were ranked by in the NSCAA national poll. The only difference was that the NSCAA only had Wartburg “receiving votes”, but not ranked, giving the D3soccer.com rankings a one-team edge.  That’s down from last year when fifteen (D3soccer.com) and thirteen (NSCAA) of the Sweet 16 teams had been ranked. Neither ranking had Westminster or Rose-Hulman on their radar.  Additionally, neither ranking included Kenyon or Williams, though Kenyon was very close in the NSCAA poll and received votes in the D3soccer.com poll.

Eight of the D3soccer.com top ten ranked teams are still alive with #1 Ohio Wesleyan falling in an upset and #4 Stevens edged by #7 York. The Ohio Wesleyan upset was clearly not predictable and in a Top 10 encounter, one team has to go home. The NSCAA top ten didn’t do as well, with Wheaton and UW-Oshkosh adding to Ohio Wesleyan and Stevens for a total of only six top ten teams surviving the opening weekend.

D3soccer.com ranked teams went 14-4-1 in the first round with no head-to-head matches between ranked teams. Meanwhile, the NSCAA ranked teams did a little better at 15-3-1, also without any head-to-head matches. The difference was that NSCAA-ranked Puget Sound and WNEC both picked up wins while Wartburg did and St. Scholastica did not give the D3soccer.com rankings a win. In the second round, the D3soccer.com Top 25 went 11-6-1, slightly better than the NSCAA Top 25 which posted a 10-8-1 mark. Of course, there were a number of matches featuring two ranked teams. If we remove those results, the D3soccer.com ranked teams were 7-2-1 against unranked teams in round two while the NSCAA Top 25 went 6-3-1 against their unranked opposition. In the Top 25 head-to-head matches, the higher ranked teams went 2-2-0 in the D3soccer.com rankings and 3-2-0 in the NSCAA rankings.

Combining the two rounds, the D3soccer.com Top 25 went 21-6-2 against unranked opponents; the NSCAA Top 25 went 20-6-2. If we add to that total the matches between ranked teams, we see that the higher ranked teams went 23-8-2 for both D3soccer.com and the NSCAA. If we only look at the Top 10 teams from each rankings and remove matches between Top 10 teams, D3soccer.com’s top picks went 11-1-1 and the NSCAA favorites went 10-3-1.


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.



Jim Matson, Christan Shirk, Ryan Harmanis, and other staff writers and contributors help cover the games and results across the nation.

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