Saturday, December 25, 2010

2011 Season Preview: Ranking the Conferences

1. NESCAC - Despite the UAA closing the gap last year, we saw who the top conference was during NCAAs. This year, these New England liberal arts schools will be #1 again, boasting the best team in the country as well as two other top 8 quality teams. Don't forget Bowdoin who's a lock for the top 18 and Trinity (CT) and Bates, both of whom should be top 25. Other respectable programs include Colby and Tufts. The NESCAC is both top heavy and deep, making it the top conference in the country by a long shot.

2. UAA - The UAA came on strong last year as the only conference to have 3 teams in the top 8. They have 5 teams this year that should be ranked, including 4 probable top 15 teams. Emory and Wash U both have top 5 potential, and we could see CMU and Chicago in the single digits. I don't think they are quite as strong as NESCAC, but the potential is there. Brandeis and Case Western are two teams on the rise who should be making noise on the national scene for the next several years.

3. SCIAC - Another powerhouse conference that was much improved with Cal Lutheran making its way into the top 5 in the country for a good portion of last season. This conference has 4 schools that should definitely be top 20 and other respectable programs in Occidental and Whittier. We could see both CMS and CLU in the top 5 this year and top 10 for Redlands isn't completely out of the question. This conference remains strong, but not quite as good as the top 2.

4. SCAC - A big drop after the top 3, as the SCAC should have 2 ranked teams this year in Trinity (TX) and DePauw. Trinity has top 5 potential, and I could see DePauw as high as 11 or 12 sometime during the season. After the top two, other decent teams include Rhodes, who flirted with the top 30 last year, as well as Sewanee who always fields a pretty good team. This conference will get significantly weaker after the end of this season with DePauw leaving to go elsewhere.

5. NCAC - The home to Kenyon and Denison, this conference has really been dominated by the Lords during this decade. Denison has good and bad years, but they look to be a top 30 team this year, which allows this conference to come in at #5. This conference is fairly deep, with teams like Allegheny and Wooster, as well as Oberlin College, the hosts for last year's NCAA championships. I can see the NCAC having 4-5 top 30 teams in a few years, especially after they get DePauw for 2012.

6. Centennial - Hopkins really dominates this conference and there's not much question that they are going to win it. They won't just dominate this year, but I see them pretty much locking up the conference for the next 5 years as well after a great recruiting class. That being said, this conference is also home to 3 other respectable programs who I would consider top 75 teams. Franklin & Marshall is a young team on the rise and Swarthmore and Haverford are always good, despite having seen better days.

7. USA South - This conference is home to top 10 team NC Wesleyan, as well as Christopher Newport, who should definitely be top 25 this year. These 2 have competed for the conference title the past couple years and should continue their rivalry for quite a while. The bottom of this conference is extremely weak, but a bright spot is a streaky Averett team who usually finishes 3rd. They have top 30 potential, but have a long way to go until they catch up with the top 2.

8. Northwest - The home to Whitman, who has dominated this conference in recent years. Although they didn't win the conference in 2007, Whitman seldom loses a conference match. They have some decent competition, as this conference has 3 teams who I'd consider top 60 in D3. Pacific Lutheran has a pretty good tradition and always has a good team, and Linfield is a similar story. A team to watch is Willamette, who's improved significantly over the past few years and looks to be well on their way to the top 30.

9. Liberty League - Lucky for these guys, they were in Pool B last year, so they had 3 teams qualify for NCAAs. Vassar was a fixture in the top 30 last year, and Skidmore did the same the year before that. Both Vassar and Skidmore have solid teams in 2011 and should fight it out for the conference title. A respectable 3rd place team is fairly unknown St. Lawrence, who quietly was able to beat Skidmore comfortably last year. This conference is improving exponentially each year, so I expect a bright future for them.

10. Capital - A fairly weak conference in 2011, the CAC is home to Mary Washington, who's a lock for the top 25 as well as Salisbury. The Sea Gulls were in the top 15 last year, making the conference title race respectable, but they should be weak in this rebuilding year. Mary Wash should run away with this conference very easily, as they look for their 12th consecutive title. There's not much to this conference after the top 2 teams.