November 14, 2012

Welcome to the Sweet 16, Part 2: the Men

By Christan Shirk

Along with some familiar names are new faces and others back after long and even longer absences. 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?

Susquehanna celebrates the goal that would send them into the Sweet 16.

Unlike the women who had eight repeat participants from 2011, just four men’s teams are back in the Sweet 16 for a second straight year.  Montclair State is the only Final Four team from a year ago to reach sectionals this season.  The other three did make the tournament unlike a year ago when just one Final Four team from the previous year, the champion Messiah, was even in the dance and they went one-and-out with a shocking second round loss.  

Stevens reached the Elite 8 with a sectional semifinal win over Amherst last year; both teams are back and on opposite sides of the bracket this time around.   Amherst is actually in their third straight Sweet 16, but did not advance to the quarterfinals either previous year.  Stevens is in their third Sectional in four years, having reached the final in 2009.  The final back-to-back member of the Sweet 16 is Ohio Northern who a year ago, after taking a 2-0 first half lead, was defeated in dramatic comeback fashion by the eventual champion Ohio Wesleyan in their Sweet 16 encounter.

But these certainly aren’t the only teams with later-round experience.  Messiah and Loras have also reached this stage in 2009 and 2010, the Duhawks advancing no further while the Falcons brought home two titles.  Juniors and seniors for Trinity (Texas) have been here in 2010 when Lynchburg stung them 2-0.  Seniors for Dominican, Swarthmore, Williams, and York (Pa.) have Sweet 16 experience from their freshmen year, Swarthmore and York being eliminated on penalty kicks while Williams and Dominican would reach the semifinals.  Penalty kicks have not been kind to York in the tournament, having been their demise on three previous occassions as well.  But it was their route to their second straight Elite 8 in 2007 after their first, and to this point, only Sweet 16 victory the year before did the job.*  Swarthmore is without a Sweet 16 win unless you count their first round win en route to a runner-up finish in the first-ever Division III tournament in 1974; the tournament was a 16-team affair for the first six years.  [* Author's Note: In the original version of this article I mistakenly stated that York had never won a Sweet 16 game.  It's great to know we have so many York fans who visit the site and read my columns!  And I do genuinely appreciate the correction.]

UW-Platteville and Susquehanna seniors enrolled on the heels of their programs’ first tournament appearances in 2008 and while it has taken them all four years to repeat the feat, they have set a new precedent for their schools by reaching the Sweet 16.  Scranton’s seniors were about three years old the last time the Royals made the tournament and were just being born when they last reached the Sweet 16.  But it’s a very rich history that Scranton has, putting together an incredible 8-year tournament run from 1977 to 1984 that has few equals: one Sweet 16, three Elite 8, two semifinal, and two runner-up finishes.  Brandeis’ last tournament appearance was 27 years ago, but the Judges were champions of the third-ever Division III tournament in 1976 and remained on the the top programs for the next ten years with four more Sweet 16 finishes or better.

Wheaton (Ill.) had a short one-and-out tournament experience four years ago that few would have predicted would be the Thunder’s last NCAA participation for three years.  The program is second all-time in Sweet 16 appearances, but was last here in 2007 when a magical farewell to legendary coach Joe Bean carried Wheaton to the title game.

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.

York Spartans celebrate advancement to Sweet 16 after a two year absence.
Photo by Zach Clabaugh

AQ via Conference Tournament (10): Amherst (NESCAC), Dominican (Northern), Loras (IIAC), Messiah (Commonwealth), Ohio Northern (OAC), Stevens (Empire 8), Susquehanna (Landmark), Trinity (Texas) (SCAC), Wheaton (Ill.) (CCIW), York (Pa.) (CAC)

At-large Pool C Berth (6): Brandeis (UAA), Montclair State (NJAC), Scranton (Landmark), Swarthmore (Centennial), UW-Platteville (WIAC), Williams (NESCAC)

And what about regular season finish?  Do the sixteen teams really represent the best of their respective conferences?   As opposed to the women, the answer would be an overwhelming “yes”.  All men's teams finished first or tied for first in their conference. 

1st Place in Regular Season Standings (16): Amherst* (NESCAC), Brandeis* (UAA), Dominican (Northern), Loras (IIAC), Messiah (Commonwealth), Montclair State (NJAC), Ohio Northern (OAC), Scranton* (Landmark), Stevens (Empire 8), Susquehanna* (Landmark), Swarthmore (Centennial), Trinity (Texas) (SCAC), UW-Platteville (WIAC), Wheaton (Ill.) (CCIW), Williams* (NESCAC), York (Pa.) (CAC)     (* - tied for first place)

Strong and deep or a bit overrated?

Four conferences got two or more at-large berths in addition to their automatic berth.  How did those conferences perform?  In hind-sight, were the extra selections justified?  You decide.

University Athletic Association (UAA): Carnegie Mellon (AQ), Brandeis, Emory, Rochester, Washington U.

Only one of five UAA participants managed to survive the opening two rounds of the tournament, having gone a combined 4-4-1.  The first round went well enough with four of the five teams advancing to the second round, three with a victory and one via penalty kick shootout.  Overall they scored and conceded a combined 13 goals over the weekend, but unfortunately a lion’s share of the goals scored came in round one after which a pair of UAA teams were shutout in round two losses and only a late goal by Brandeis to edge past Vassar 1-0 avoided the potential for not just a third shutout suffered but for the highly represented conference to be shut out of the Sweet 16.  To be fair to the UAA teams, they got few favors in the bracketing of teams as No. 1 ranked Messiah stood in Emory’s path and the conference’s highest ranked team, Carnegie Mellon, had to face No. 5 ranked Ohio Northern meaning that the most likely chance for another team to reach the Sweet 16 fell to 5th place Rochester.

New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC ): Amherst (AQ), Tufts, Wesleyan, Williams

Two of four NESCAC teams remain alive with the top two teams going through while the third and fourth place representatives have been sent home.  That’s probably exactly what should have been expected, although those who think the NESCAC to be the country’s strongest conference probably expected at least three, if not all four, teams to have at least passed the first hurdle.  And that almost happened as Tufts went to double overtime with Vassar before conceding the game’s lone goal and Wesleyan went the distance before being eliminated by penalty shootout for a mixed 1-1-1 first round with Amherst having a bye.  In round two the remaining NESCAC representatives earned wins in contrasting style: Amherst cruising to a 4-0 victory while it took over 99 minutes and all that Williams had to overcome a first minute goal from a weakened St. Lawrence squad.

Centennial Conference: Haverford (AQ), Swarthmore, Dickinson

The Centennial could just as easily had only one representative in the tournament if 1-seed Swarthmore had not fallen to Haverford in the conference final and the selection committee had opted for a number of other schools squarely on the bubble together with Dickinson.  That’s certainly a change for a conference that in 2009 and 2010 was much stronger and was left wondering how they didn’t get an additional team into the dance.  Nevertheless, all three of this year’s participants advanced to the second round, Dickinson and Swarthmore with ease, Haverford via penalty kicks.  But their combined 9-2 goal advantage while posting two shutouts was largely reversed in the second round with a 3-7 goal deficit and two shutout losses suffered as the conference’s 2nd and 3rd place teams, both unranked, faced the No. 3 and No. 12 ranked teams in the nation.  The easiest opponent fell to the conference’s 1-seed and nationally ranked Swarthmore who brushed RPI aside 3-0 to represent the Centennial in the Sweet 16. 

Liberty League:  RPI (AQ), St. Lawrence, Vassar

For the second straight year the Liberty League has placed three teams in the tournament, and many might find that odd for such an unheralded conference.  Except by their own fans, the Liberty isn’t one of the names mentioned when discussing top conferences.  And the tournament results last year didn’t change any minds as two teams went one-and-out while St. Lawrence did reach the Sweet 16 before exiting.  In an improvement over 2011, Vassar and RPI did what Vassar and Hobart could not last year, as both joined St. Lawrence in picking up first round wins, two by shutout, outscoring opponents 5-1.  However, none would find a way past the second round, being outscored 6-1 in three losses, St. Lawrence coming the closest to advancement when they pushed Williams to extra time.

The Sweet 16 versus the Men's Top 25

How well did the Men’s Top 25 panel do ranking teams this season?  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 Top 25 stacks up to the Sweet 16.

All but one of the Sweet 16 teams were ranked in the week 10 Top 25, the final ranking prior to the tournament.  Not only that, but all Top 10 teams are still alive.  Of the ten ranked teams that have been eliminated, six lost to teams ranked above them, one lost to a team ranked below them, and three lost to unranked teams.  Twenty-two ranked teams either advanced to the second round or lost to another ranked team in the first round.  Overall, that’s reflects very well on the job done by the Men’s Top 25 panel.

UW-Platteville is the only unranked men's team among this year's Sweet 16.
University of Wisconsin-Platteville Athletics

The only unranked team in the Sweet 16 is UW-Platteville, and they certainly weren't overlooked.  Platteville received votes in every poll and was ranked from Week 4 to Week 8.  They peaked at No. 19 in the Week 6 Top 25 after an 11-1-1 start from which point a week 7 loss and a week 9 loss cost them the voters' confidence as their overall record dropped to 14-3-1.  Their path to the Sweet 16 involved two unranked teams, one of the easier pair of games for teams progressing to Sectionals. Was UW-Platteville underrated?  Maybe; maybe not.  While in hindsight, voters may have held faith with Ohio Wesleyan a little too long, there were certainly a handful of other teams just a worthy of consideration for a Top 25 spot as was UW-Platteville, so I don't think their advancement to the Sweet 16 is proof that the panel missed the boat on this one. ranked teams went 16-6-1 in the first round, including three head-to-head matches.  Removing those games and the record becomes 13-3-1.  In the second round, ranked teams went 12-3-4, but when you remove the four head-to-head matches the performance becomes a more impressive 9-0-2.  Combining the two rounds, ranked teams went 22-3-3 (.839) against unranked teams.

And how did the rankings compare to the NSCAA rankings?  There were four differences in teams ranked entering the tournament.  The NSCAA had Rochester, Gustavus Adolphus, Methodist and Mississippi ranked, none of whom reached the Sweet 16, while ranked York (Pa.) and Scranton who made the Sweet 16 and Ohio Wesleyan and Medaille who did not.  Along with two less ranked teams in the Sweet 16, the NSCAA also has two Top 10 teams that did not survive opening weekend.  Overall, the NSCAA ranked teams amassed four less wins versus unranked teams (18 vs. 22), but by percentage their 18-1-5 (.854) record versus unranked teams is slightly higher.

Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.


Christan Shirk


Christan Shirk is a Messiah College graduate (1993, Civil Engineering) and has been a keen and passionate observer of D-III soccer for over a decade and a half. Never more than a rec-league player himself, Chris brings an analytical approach and nationwide perspective to He loves D-III soccer history, statistical number-crunching, and off-the-radar action, all of which he gladly shares with his readers when he's able to find time to write. [see full bio]

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