Welcome back for the next and final central region preview. Before I dive into the teams, a couple of quick notes. First, although this post is titled “Chicago Region,” the region is being hosted by Gustavus Adolphus, but Chicago is the #1 seed. Next, the top 4 seeds have played in the same region the past three years but in different locations. In 2015, UW-Whitewater hosted, in 2016 Chicago, and as I just mentioned, in 2017 GAC. So, Coe should start preparing for its 2018 hosting duties. Just kidding. Anyway, I wrote about Chicago, Gustavus, UW-Whitewater, and Coe, while D3RegionalNEC powered through Grinnell and Concordia-Wisconsin.
Odds of making the quarterfinals: 71%
Power 6 Rating (Or team UTR): 75
How they got here: By only losing to top 5 team this season (Emory, CMS, Wash U) and notching big wins against Wash U, CMU, and Williams, Chicago secured a Pool C bid.
Why they’ll win: Chicago has rolled through, more or less, the exact same region the past two years. While several freshmen are making an impact for the Maroons, a lot of the lineup is more than familiar with advancing to the Elite 8. The experience is invaluable as the Maroons will likely go up against Gustavus Adolphus at the Gusties’ home courts in the Sweet 16. Chicago is also a stronger doubles team than in past years; earlier this season, they swept GAC. And of course, singles play has gotten Chicago through a lot of difficult matches. While they split singles against GAC last month, the Maroons step up for NCAAs. Anyway, the combination of refined doubles, strong singles, and experience on their side make Chicago the favorite.
How they can be beaten: I don’t want to sound contradictory, but despite doubles being light years ahead of where it was in the past, Chicago’s faced deficits in their last two matches. While they’ve overcome doubles deficits against Gustavus several times throughout the past couple years, it’s definitely a guarantee that they can again.
Player to watch: Max Hawkins, SENIOR. As the lone senior in the Chicago starting lineup, the doctor’s gotta be hungry to make an epic NCAA run. Hawkins’ sick hands and leadership are instrumental to Chicago’s NCAA success.
Odds of making the quarterfinals: 20%
Power 6 Rating (Or team UTR): 72
How they got here: There wasn’t much of a question, even at the start of the year, if Gustavus would qualify for NCAAs. They own the MIAC and ran through the MIAC Playoffs, garnering a Pool A Bid. While Gustavus’ regular season got off to a rocky start, with losses to Whitman and Pomona-Pitzer, the Minnesotans ended on a high note. Big victories this year have been against DePauw, UT-Tyler, and Coe.
How they can win: Relying and doubles and top 3 singles. We all know that Gustavus is a traditional doubles powerhouse. They’ve even had leads after dubs against Middlebury and Trinity TX this year. Combined with an exceptionally good top half of the singles lineup (Mohanad Alhouni, Zach Ekstein, and Patrick Whaling), Gustavus isn’t a team to sleep on. Plus, home court advantage could serve the Gusties well.
Why they will be beaten: While Gustavus is a very good team, they’ve not been able to defeat top tier teams in the past few years. Their biggest win this season has been against UT-Tyler, and they have losses to every top 20 team they’ve faced. Even after taking 2-1 leads over Chicago in the past two Sweet 16s, the Maroons ran through singles. It’ll be a large task to defeat a top team.
Player to watch: Mohanad Alhouni. The junior just qualified for both singles and doubles at NCAAs. Despite one head-scratching singles loss a couple weeks ago, Mohanad’s consistency is admirable. I think the Libyan needs two points each match for Gustavus to make a run.
Odds of making the quarterfinals: 4%
Power 6 Rating (Or team UTR): 66
How they got here: Simply, they beat Coe on April 30th to secure the final Pool B bid over TCNJ. Given that the Warhawks lost to every other ranked opponent, a victory over the Kohawks was instrumental.
How they can win: What I appreciate about the Warhawks is their steady rise throughout the season. Coach Frank Barnes has done a fantastic job developing his young and inexperienced squad. Despite dealing with a lot of adversity, UW-Whitewater is looking pretty good at the moment. The Warhawks are heavily favored against Concordia-Wisconsin, and I see no reason why they won’t blow by the Falcons. However, they fell to GAC 8-1 in early March. Again, this is a new Warhawk team. Of course, a doubles lead is a must against GAC, and then I think UWW needs wins from the red-hot Zane Navratil at 2 (despite falling to Ekstein 6-1, 6-2 in March), whoever plays 4, and whoever plays 5. I think that combination gets the Warhawks to the Sweet 16. It’s unlikely that UWW beats GAC but even more unlikely that they beat Chicago the following day, should they advance.
Why they will be beaten: Youth and inexperience. Coach Barnes mentioned on the podcast a few weeks ago that Grant Thompson and Navratil were playing 4 and 5 singles and are the only two returning starters. This year, they are at 1 and 2, respectively. While the inexperience was not on display against Coe, NCAAs is a whole other monster, and the Warhawks will be without Barnes, I believe, until the Sweet 16 (depending on how far the women’s team makes it) since the women are hosting.
Player to watch: Zane Navratil. Despite having a tough at #1 singles while Thompson was dealing with an injury, Navratil’s been a beast since moving back to 2, winning six of his last seven matches. He’s also won five of his last six doubles matches with partner Jimmy Engelhart.
Odds of making the quarterfinals: 4%
Power 6 Rating (Or team UTR): 68
How they got here: Coe defeated Luther in the IIAC AQ Tournament Championship, earning a Pool A bid. This year, the Kohawks’ notched big wins over Depauw and Wheaton, while suffering tight losses to Kalamazoo and UW-Whitewater. Ranking wise, Coe’s been in the 35-40 range all season.
How they can win: Coe should storm past Grinnell, as they did about one month ago. In their encounter, only one singles match went the distance, but there were several other close sets. Actually, as I look at the box score now, Coe can’t sleep on Grinnell, but should still be heavily favored. Anyway, in the round of 32 (should they advance), the Kohawks are underdogs against Chicago, and even if they were to upset Chicago, I can’t see two monster upsets in two days.
Why they will be beaten: Depth. Coe’s strength is in a man named Brady Anderson. Though several Coe players notched nice wins throughout the year, Anderson is the only successful player against top teams.
Player to watch: See above. Brady Anderson. This dude is unreal.
Odds of making the quarterfinals: <1%
Power 6 Rating (Or team UTR): 62
How they got here: Grinnell won the Midwest Conference for the 14th straight year, beating Lake Forest in the final 5-3. The Pioneers actually started the season in the ITA Central rankings, but a subpar year has seen them drop out in part due to 5-4 losses to Wheaton, Luther, and OWU. It hasn’t helped that their #1, Jose Coloma, has been out since early March.
How this affects your bracket: It won’t affect your bracket negatively as long as you don’t pick them to beat Coe. They lost 9-0 to the Kohawks earlier this year, and while there were some close matches, I don’t think Grinnell has a shot in this one unless something crazy happens.
Player to watch: Cole Miller. The senior has filled in admirably at #1 singles this year, and just won his fifth title for the MWC individual tournament (three in doubles, two in singles).
Odds of making the quarterfinals: <1%
Power 6 Rating (Or team UTR): 53
How they got here: CUW rolled through the NACC tournament, winning 5-0 in the semis against Aurora and then 5-0 again in the finals over Milwaukee School of Engineering. This is their first conference title since 2013, and I have to give them a nice little shout out for beating MSOE for the title, as they had lost 5-4 to them earlier this season. That’s a great turnaround!
How this affects your bracket: While the Falcons have had a great year at 20-6 and their first round opponents UWW have had a down year, the gap is still quite large, and I don’t see this one going any other way than a pretty straightforward victory for the Warhawks.
Player to watch: Gabe Binversie. He leads the team with 18 singles wins, playing mostly at 4 and 5, and has also held it down nicely at #3 doubles. He also recently won a super tiebreaker 10-0, or as I like to call it, a super mini-bagel.