I was going to title my weekly column “10 Things We’ve Learned This Year.” Then I saw an interesting result, Bates d. Johns Hopkins 7-2, and I realized that we haven’t learned anything besides Amherst, Emory and Williams are better than everyone else. Given Carnegie Mellon’s win against NC Wesleyan and Bates win over Hopkins (minus Hersh), let’s make an attempt to examine where we stand at the moment, answer some important questions and figure out some potential scenarios based upon upcoming schedules. One may ask why I talk about Pool C so much, but it’s really the thing that ends up shaping the tournament field. For the most part, the same teams win their conferences every year, but the Pool C field seems to be always changing and throwing a new angle at us. Who qualifies from Pool C will determine who ends up where in NCAAs and presents some intriguing matches. The important thing to remember, and this is key, is that there are multiple ways to approach this problem. I see things one way, but that doesn’t mean my way is the right way. I can sit here and write a ton about direct wins and indirect wins and make an excellent case for about 8 teams, but ultimately it’s just one way of looking at things. I’m not wrong, but I’m also not right, it’s just my particular (hopefully unbiased) point of view.
Question #1: Can 4 NESCAC teams get NCAA bids through Pool C? Yes, but it will be difficult. I throw around the words “top 20″ and “top 25,” like they are nothing, yet I don’t think I’ve used either to describe Bates. Even without Hersh, Hopkins is still a great team, and Bates spanked them. At the moment, Bates has found a winning formula and this win came out of nowhere. Play good doubles and win at the top of the lineup. It’s very effective and the Bobcats took advantage of the fact that Hopkins has been playing awful doubles the entire month. I actually feel terrible that I didn’t even bother to talk about Bates in my article last week, that’s how surprised I was to see this. This is the 3rd time this season Hopkins has been swept in doubles and it may very well have cost them a top seed in their region in NCAAs. I’m not exactly sure where Hersh is, but it’s difficult to start 5 freshmen and win unless you’re Emory. With that tangent aside, Bates has put themselves in a great spot to make the tournament for the first year in quite some time. A match that I now have circled on my calendar is an April 20th date with Bowdoin. It’s very possible that the winner goes to the tournament and the loser doesn’t, however the NESCAC is so good right now they may very well get 5 teams in the tournament, as ridiculous as that sounds. At the end of the year, my guess is only 4 NESCAC teams go, but you never know. The disadvantage for Bates and Bowdoin is they are both done playing out of conference matches and they only have each other to beat up on. I think both the Polar Bears and Bobcats have it in them to knock off Midd or Williams, but there’s no way you could predict that result. Bowdoin has direct wins over Pool C competitors Wash U and Carnegie Mellon, but given how screwed up things are this year, I’m pretty sure we are going to be looking at overall resumes at the end of the year rather than direct wins and losses. Same goes for Bates, who has a direct loss to Redlands, who is currently not in the tournament. Frankly, I don’t care about how these teams started, I care about how they finish, and as you’ll see below, that’s why I’m in favor of rewarding signature wins later in the season and I think they trump direct losses in uncomfortable environments early in the season.
Question #2: Can 3 SCIAC teams get NCAA bids through Pool C? Highly unlikely. I just don’t see this happening even if Redlands, PP and CLU all have tournament worthy resumes. You have to consider the intangibles and the fact that they practice outdoors and beat teams coming from indoor tennis AND they get to play everything at home. As I’ve said, I think it would be extremely difficult for Cal Lutheran not to make the tournament. They have wins over Redlands and PP, and even with a loss to CMS they would get the #2 seed in conference tournament. They do still have to play Whittier, which could be a tricky match, but in all likelihood they win and end up as the 2 seed in the conference tournament, unless of course they beat CMS, which is actually possible since the Stags still have yet to find their game. I just think that inviting 4 SCIAC teams to the tournament is opening Pandora’s Box and asking for trouble. The rest of the country would be extremely upset that these California teams never really travel and get to qualify for NCAAs. Granted they play in a brutal region, but I just don’t see this happening. The PP-Redlands regular season match is so big, because in all likelihood, no disrespect to Whittier, the winner gets the #3 seed in the SCIAC tournament and the loser gets the #4. The #4 would then have to play Whittier in the quarters and CMS in the semis, which is asking for trouble. There’s also the 3-4 match to consider, so by the end of the year, PP and Redlands will have so many wins and losses, that it will be hard to compare them to the East Coast teams. Given this knowledge, I don’t see the tournament committee granting 3 Pool C spots to the SCIAC. Even with PP’s direct win over Carnegie, I’m taking the Tartans right now because you have to look at overall resumes and reward play later in the season. Same goes for Redlands and Bates.
Question #3: Is it possible that the #2 UAA team doesn’t make the tournament? Near impossible. I somewhat answered this in the previous questions, but this is just not happening. Given CMU’s win yesterday, they have the #2 seed in the conference tournament on their rackets. They’ve got 4 tough matches before UAAs, and if they beat the teams below them, meaning W&L and Denison, they will get the #2 seed in the conference tournament and no one can do anything about it. If they slip, things will get interesting. In 2 weekends, we have a round robin in Chicago with Case, Wash U and you guessed it, Chicago. Common sense tells me Wash U comes out of that weekend undefeated, but you never know. Case is not out of it if they beat Wash U and end up finishing 2nd in the conference tournament. Chicago is very close to out of it, but if they somehow beat Case and Wash U on that weekend, you never know. The huge thing about this conference tournament is those 2 and 3 seeds. You’ve got 5 top notch teams in this conference. The 4 and 5 will have to play each other and the winner plays a nearly untouchable Emory in the semis which is basically a loss. That leaves the 2-3 match as the key here. I feel confident in saying that this conference is good enough where the #2 team will get a bid. It’s a likely scenario that Carnegie and Wash U will face off in the UAA semi with the winner going to the tournament and the loser’s season being done the next day after the 3-4 match. Unless Carnegie falls apart and Wash U, Case and Chicago all go 1-1 on that weekend, I think it would be an absolute travesty to have Emory as the only UAA representative in the NCAA tournament given how brutal this conference is and how much all of these teams travel.
Question #4: If the tournament started tomorrow, what 6 teams get in? Williams, Middlebury, Cal Lutheran, Bowdoin, Carnegie Mellon, Bates. PP and Redlands automatically scream unfair and rightfully so. Redlands has a direct win over Bates and PP has a direct win over Carnegie. However if I included PP and Redlands, Carnegie and Bates would both say they have wins over proven top 10 teams AND I would be going against the point I made in Question #2. Everyone has an extremely legitimate argument and that is why I introduced this article by saying this is only my point of view. If I’m making the tournament bracket right now, I want the hottest teams in, and these are those teams. Midd we are obviously speculating about, but with Bob Hansen coaching and a talented roster, I’d be surprised if they end up falling off this year. Bowdoin played very solid in California and only lost to top notch teams in close matches. The truth is there are 8 or 9 very deserving teams for these 6 spots, but they can’t all get one. I tried to stick with one logic for this article and that was rewarding great wins that are recent. What happens in late February or early March does and should not determine the eventual outcome of a season. It pains me to ignore direct wins, but how can you not given how this season has gone?
Question #5: When it’s all said and done, which 6 teams will go? Williams, Middlebury, Cal Lutheran, Bowdoin, Pomona-Pitzer, Wash U. Williams is just very good, Midd strings enough wins together to get in, CLU ends up #2 in the SCIAC, Bowdoin takes out Bates and finishes 4th in NESCAC, PP beats Redlands and finishes 3rd in SCIAC and Wash U tops Carnegie in a UAA semi after Follmer puts new life in his team.