Tourney time is finally upon us. Arguably the best time of the sports year brings with it loads of college hoops, starting with the Division III Men’s basketball tournament, which tips off Thursday with a whole mess of intriguing first round games. Many of those delectable first round matchups occur on the left side of the bracket where the likes of BR-18 Richard Stockton, BR-12 Marietta, BR-10 Babson, BR-3 Washington U, BR-2 Augustana (Ill.), and BR-1 UW-Whitewater set off down the road to Salem.
For a full breakdown of the tournament, check out the BennettRank BRacketology Snubs, Analysis and Previews.
Here are some notable takeaways from the left half of the bracket.
Toughest Second Round Matchup After First Round Bye
Only one team really fits this mould, but it remains a very interesting issue. BR-2 Augustana received one of two byes to the second round (along with BR-6 Randolph Macon on the other side of the bracket), and while the Vikings must be pleased with a free pass into the Second Round, they cannot be thrilled with their likely opponent — perennial power BR-3 Washington-St. Louis.
Barring what would be a reasonable upset against BR-58 DePauw, we could witness one of the most intriguing matchups this side of the Final Four in just the second round — one that could see longtime head coach Grey Giovanine and his Vikings depart early after a fantastic 23-win season.
Best Potential Pre-Final Four Matchup
We could definitely point to the potential Second Round game of Augustana-Washington U but let’s look at another interesting and powerful matchup, this one coming in the Elite Eight between BR-18 Richard Stockton and BR-10 Babson. Even the most casual D3 hoops fan could predict the Babson Beavers were climbing toward a special year after moving from 14 wins in 2012-13 to 20 wins a season ago, but who expected them to win 25 ballgames?
Led by sophomore Joey Flannery and seasoned veteran John Wickey, Babson captured the NEWMAC crown and a relatively friendly path to Salem. But they’re certainly not impervius — many teams could unseat the feisty Beavers including the always-savvy Gerry Matthews, in his 29th season coaching the Ospreys. Neither team will light up the scoreboard (they rank 210 and 289 in opponent-adjusted offense), but both play disciplined defense and have a firm understanding of their limits. If both can win three games, look for a crisp defensive battle between two teams ranked in the top ten in the division in opponent-adjusted defense March 14th.
Did Whitewater Get a Poor Draw?
One year after UW-Whitewater barreled through the regional bracket to the Final Four with wins of 24, 19, 18 and 23 points, the Warhawks are back and ready to capture their third title in four seasons.
But did they get a poor draw? As the top team in our rankings, Whitewater sits in the same region as BR-2 Augustana and BR-3 Washington U. Although they would only have to defeat either Augustana and Washington on their way to Salem, the placement does not appear friendly, especially with some of the most dangerously underrated teams in the tournament waiting, including BR-32 St. Olaf, BR-12 Marietta and BR-27 Wooster. This is the drawback of regional seeding, but it’s the nature of the beast.
The Warhawks only faced two tourney team this season. First they lost arguably the most exhilarating game of the season at Augustana, 96-94 in double overtime. Then, they split their series with BR-5 Stevens Point. The Pointers are on the other side of the bracket, so they wouldn’t face off before the title game, but the Vikings and Warhawks could face off in the Elite Eight March 14th.
Their 1-2 record against tournament teams this season isn’t all that encouraging, but their 22-0 record against other D3 teams this year is. We’ll see which is the real Whitewater soon enough.
Which Player Could Single-Handedly Lead Their Team?
Joey Flannery (Babson), Bernard Edwards (Defiance) and Jammal Coleman (Medaille) are three of a couple dozen dynamic players on the left side of the bracket. Although it’s nearly impossible to single-handedly lead your team to a title, we’ve seen many players become unstoppable forces come March and believe those three have the best chance to do so in 2015.
We’re giving Edwards the leg-up, largely due to Defiance’s path, one that begins against defending champion Whitewater in the First Round. If he can penetrate the Warhawks’ defense and hit a few big shots down the stretch, the senior leader could quickly become the tournament’s golden boy.