We are a little beyond 1/3 through the season but it's never too early to start discussing the NCAA tournament because after all, it's definitely the biggest event of the season. I first glanced at the NCAA handbook about 2 weeks ago and the first thing that caught my eye is the field for 2010 had been expanded from 41 to 42 teams. I hoped that this meant Pool C had been expanded, but much to my dismay, the Independent Pool B has been given a 9th bid. The breakdown is now 27-9-6. Pool B is fairly weak, but includes teams such as : Santa Cruz, TCNJ, Vassar, Skidmore, Whitewater, Oshkosh, Eau Claire, Carthage and MIT.
Pool A will obviously have several hotly contested conferences most notably:
UAA (Emory, Wash U, Carnegie, Chicago)
NESCAC (Amherst, Midd, Williams, Bowdoin, Trinity (CT))
SCIAC (Cal Lutheran, CMS, Redlands, Pomona-Pitzer)
SCAC (DePauw, Trinity (TX), Rhodes)
CAC (Mary Washington, Salisbury)
ODAC (Hampden-Sydney, Washington & Lee)
I just listed 6 conferences and 20 total teams. Clearly, only 6 of the teams can win their conference so that leaves 14 teams competing for 6 Pool C spots to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Here's a look at where most of the teams stand.
Pool C Rankings
#1 - UAA #2 - Wash U and Emory both have established themselves as top 5 teams in the country, at least it seems that way right now. Chances are excellent that they will meet in the final of UAAs. The winner goes through Pool A, the loser goes through Pool C. Besides Emory's home match against Williams, neither team has much in the way of D3 competition before the conference tournament. It's a lock that one of these teams will qualify through Pool C.
#2 - NESCAC #2 - Pretty much the same scenario here. This is most likely going to be Amherst or Middlebury. I view Williams as a fairly distant 3rd this year. Whoever finishes 2nd in this conference should be in the top 8 in the country and should have no trouble qualifying for Pool C. Amherst had a slow start to the season but after their CMS win, I see them moving into the top 10 most likely and I'd be surprised if they aren't top 8 by the time the year ends.
#3 - SCIAC #2 - This will be CLU or CMS. Right now, it looks like that will be CMS, but either way both of these teams are a lock for the tournament. CLU already has a good enough resume to make the tournament through Pool C and CMS will at the end of the season barring a meltdown. It's possible that Redlands pulls 1 upset in the conference tourney, but I don't see them winning the SCIAC tournament the way they've been playing.
Note : These top 3 are interchangeable. They can go in any order. It doesn't matter because they will all make the tourney.
#4 Carnegie Mellon - The saving grace for the Tartans is that they have the Amherst win to fall back on if they get into trouble. Even if they fall to #6 in Pool C and have a direct loss to a team like DePauw or Chicago, I still think they will make it because they will have a better overall resume than these teams. They've been taking care of business and I definitely see them making the tournament unless they also have a huge meltdown.
#5 Williams - It's hard to gauge the Ephs because they haven't started their season but you can speculate they should make the tournament comfortably. I can see scenarios where they don't make it, but they are a good team. What they don't need is to go and lose to NCW this week and put themselves in a hole to start the season. Wins against Bowdoin and Trinity (CT) are a must for this team because they don't play a good out of conference schedule this year.
Note: 4 and 5 are pretty interchangeable as well. I have CMU ahead because they've played matches and Williams hasn't. Again, I'd bet that both of these teams make the tournament so they should both be pretty relaxed. They both just need to beat the teams ranked below them and they are in a good spot.
#6 - Many Contenders - According to the ITA rankings, Chicago holds this spot right now. But the truth is there are about 5 or 6 teams right on their heels. The issue is that no one team has separated from the pack like the top 4 Pool C teams have. They all seem like they can beat each other on any day. Teams that I'd throw in this category are Chicago, DePauw, Trinity (TX), Pomona-Pitzer, Redlands and Bowdoin. Trinity (CT) also belongs here but they haven't started their season yet. If they have a convincing win over Bowdoin this week, they could take over this spot. I have a feeling that the SCAC #2 won't make the tournament, and I also think P-P has a ton of work to do, as does Redlands. Chicago has some chances this week to pad their resume with wins, so to me they are the frontrunner here at the moment.
I will do a tournament outlook every 10-14 days so stay posted.