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Men’s NCAA Tournament preview – D3hoops

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Adam Brazil leads Hampden-Sydney in three-point shooting, free-throw shooting and assists.
Hampden-Sydney athletics photo by Jack Morgan
 

By Ryan Scott
D3hoops.com

Well, we’re here again: With March comes the Division III NCAA Tournament! In one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory, Hampden-Sydney has emerged as the consensus favorite, but what does that really mean? They might be the most likely winner, but odds-makers would sure favor The Field in this one.

The 2023-24 season brought more cross-regional games and contests between highly ranked opponents than I can ever remember. Losing to a good team didn’t feel quite so crushing – ask Widener and Randolph-Macon, who overcame conference tournament losses to retain No. 1 seeds – and winning a big game could make all the difference. Forty-two teams won big games in the last week to secure a spot – and Stockton won a couple in November to secure its.

Regardless of whether you have just 14 wins, like Roger Williams, or 26, like Trinity, each one matters in the story of the season, road markers on the path to the tournament, where we whittle it down to one remaining champion – the only team to go 6-0 from here on out – let’s get to figuring out precisely who that one will be:

(I’ve added point spreads courtesy of Drew Pasteur (@d3bubble), not for betting purposes, of course, but to give a sense of how these teams have performed during the year and how competitive these games are expected to be.)

None of Nebraska Wesleyan’s most prolific shooters hit better than 33% from three-point range, but Peter Lash is close to 50% inside the arc and is the team’s leading scorer.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
 

 

Upper Left quadrant

La Roche (17-10) +22.5 at Hampden-Sydney (26-2); Stevens (22-5) +.5 vs. Farmingdale (26-2)
Worcester State (18-9) +12 at Catholic (24-3); Rowan (19-7) -2.5 vs. Carnegie Mellon (16-9)
Whitworth (18-9) +9 at Cal Lutheran (23-4); St. Thomas (20-6) +.5 vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (21-6)
UT-Dallas (18-9) +11 at Trinity, Texas (23-3); Nebraska Wesleyan (23-4) -8.5 vs. Centenary, La. (17-11)

Upset Alert: D3bubble steals my thunder by positing it may not even be an upset, but I think Farmingdale State will overcome Stevens, schools that are just 40 miles apart, but travel to Virginia to play each other. The Rams’ near upset of eventual national champion Christopher Newport on this very floor last season will give them experience and confidence to take down the MAC Freedom champs. Stevens forward, Jack Spellman, is one of the undersung bigs in Division III, but Farmingdale has size of their own and an impressive array of weapons. It should be a great battle and well worth the drive for NYC-area fans. 

Most Exciting Game: Rowan loves to score, averaging almost 90 points(the most of any non-System team). Carnegie Mellon might not always play that fast, but they’ve got multiple major scoring threats and are certainly capable of running with Rowan. I called the upset because chalk in a preview is boring – one thing this game will not be!

Things to Know: If Trinity and Catholic make the sectional final, it will pit CUA grad transfer Enzo Sechi against his alma mater. … FSC head coach Brendand Twomey was once Associate head coach at Stevens, under current leader Bobby Hurley. … UT-Dallas is leaving Division III; this is the last year they’ll be eligible for the tournament and want to go out with a bang. … Claremont-Mudd-Scripps are actually three out of five small colleges that essentially share a campus and an athletic department. (The other two are Pomona and Pitzer.)

Players to Watch: Trinity’s freshman phenom, Christian Green, an uncommonly athletic big, might be the frontrunner for D3hoops.com Rookie of the Year and he’s definitely in the running for Dunk of the Year! … CMU sophomore Justin Allen averages 22 points per game, just slightly ahead of CMS All-American, Josh Angle.

What Will Happen: As the overall No. 1 seed, Hampden-Sydney has the “easiest” path to Fort Wayne, although it’s not easy at all. Cal Lutheran earned the first California hosting opportunity in more than a decade and worked hard to travel, schedule, and win a bunch of big games. Still they face the possibility of a SCIAC championship rematch with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in round two. Similarly, if Trinity wants to get out of Texas, they’ll have to overcome a formidable foe in ARC regular season champion, Nebraska Wesleyan.

I do see Hampden-Sydney emerging from this bracket. They are too deep, balanced, and experienced to be tripped up, though they may struggle to score with Carnegie Mellon, whom I’m picking to win a shootout with Rowan and then overpower Catholic to reach the second weekend. HSC will defeat Cal Lutheran in the sectional final. The Kingsmen win the fourth matchup with CMS and then sneak by NWU, who capitalize on a stellar game plan from Dale Wellman to knock off Trinity in San Antonio.

Donyae Baylor-Carroll scored 25 against Randolph-Macon on the road back in December.
Photo by Mike Atheron, d3photography.com
 

Lower Left quadrant

Roger Williams (14-14) +17 at Widener (23-4); Christopher Newport (21-6) -5 vs. Hobart (22-5)
Babson (15-13) +12.5 at Oswego (25-2); DeSales (24-3) -3 vs. Williams (21-6)
Marymount (19-8) +12.5 at Keene State (24-3); Eastern (20-7) -1.5 vs. TCNJ (20-8)
Berry (19-10) +11.5 at Guilford (22-4); Hood (19-6) -2.5 vs. Penn State-Harrisburg (24-4)

Upset Alert: Harrisburg’s Donyae Baylor-Carroll has some experience taking out highly ranked teams – he scored 45 in a double-overtime upset at Johns Hopkins back in the COVID-shortened 2020 tournament. He missed last year, but has come back to finish the job. Hood is just 3-3 in its last six games and don’t exactly come in with momentum. The opposite is true of Babson, who struggled with injuries this year, but downed WPI and Clark to win the NEWMAC tournament and might be the favorite from this quadrant to beat a host in the first round.

Most Exciting Game: I can’t even pick a winner. Eastern and TCNJ are such similar teams. Sophomores Matthew Solomon (TCNJ) and Zubair Lee (Eastern) are athletic bigs with tons of upside and the numbers of each squad are eerily similar across the board. They each ran tough gauntlets to win conference titles and there’s plenty of arguments in each direction. I’m going to pick TCNJ, because I have to pick someone and it just feels right, but I’m looking forward to watching this one quite a bit.

Things to Know: Widener features four grad transfers who’ve been all-league performers in three different conferences and there’s a potential for point guard Anthony DiCaro to face his former TCNJ teammates, if both advance far enough. … All-American Trey Barber and reigning MAC Freedom Rookie of the Year Nate Ellis are no longer on the rosters at CNU and DeSales respectively. Both teams are looking to move past the various tensions of the season and make tournament memories.

Players to Watch: Keene’s Jeff Hunter has the most double-doubles in Division III this year and is one of the leading candidates for D3hoops.com Player of the Year. His teammate Octavio Brito isn’t far behind – a unique combination of size and quickness, coupled with a strong shooting touch makes Brito a must-see! At 6-9, Nate Karren is still listed as a center for Williams, and he started his career as a pretty traditional back-to-the-basket big, but he added an outside shot during COVID and while he can still post up, you might mistake him for a guard these days – he even his the game winning three to hand Trinity (Conn.) its only loss on the season.

What Will Happen: This bracket is built around Widener and seems to have benefited from (possibly) last minute pod swaps that see all three MAC Commonwealth teams in one quadrant and maybe a few over-seeded hosts. I think that helps Widener in the early rounds, but I predict they fall to Keene State in the sectional final. The Owls are familiar with the area, having ended their last two seasons at Swarthmore, just five miles away and with some serious unfinished business.

Guilford has given up some big early leads this year and, at times, struggled to score. They’re gritty and defensive-minded, but vulnerable. I would not be surprised to see them lose to either Berry or Penn State-Harrisburg – I am going to pick them to win both, however. Oswego is a similarly talented team, but one that hasn’t been as tested as we’d like to this point. I don’t see them escaping the weekend – maybe they beat a tough Babson squad, but I think they fall to a much larger Williams team. I’ve also got CNU over Hobart and TCNJ over Eastern.

Jax Madson and Co. have a cozy little gym at home to play in, but Bethany Lutheran hasn’t exactly looked intimidated in first-round playoff games in much bigger venues in recent seasons.
Photo by Caleb Williams, d3photography.com
 

Upper Right quadrant

Mary Baldwin (17-10) +13.5 at Case Western Reserve (21-4); Hope (22-6) -1.5 vs. Anderson (23-4)
Bethany Lutheran (24-3) +7.5 at UW-Platteville (23-4); Loras (23-5) -5 vs. Gustavus Adolphus (18-10)
Fontbonne (20-7) +13 at Trine (23-4); Coe (21-5) -5 vs. Wabash (20-8)
Wisconsin Lutheran (24-4) +4 at WashU (18-7); Dubuque (21-6) -3.5 vs. Illinois College (23-4)

Upset Alert: There are a few hosts who could (and likely will) go down opening night, but the only one I’m actually picking is in this quadrant. Bethany Lutheran has been trouncing conference opponents and performing well against teams from bigger leagues all season. They’ve got four seniors in the rotation and junior Drew Sagedahl, who was injured early, has become the leading scorer down the stretch. Platteville’s Logan Pearson is an inside-outside threat and an almost guaranteed All American, but the Pioneers don’t have the size of a typical WIAC team and they’ve struggled when the supporting cast hasn’t shown up. D3bubble has them as an eight point underdog, but don’t count out the Vikings!

Most Exciting Game: You can see from the point spread, WashU doesn’t have a typical host opponent. Wisconsin Lutheran dropped just two single-digit road games in conference and have already beaten two WIAC teams this year. They’re led by All-Region forward Ryan Broeckel, who’s averaging 18 and 9 on the year. Yes, WashU has plenty of size to throw at him, but they’ve also lost leading scorer, Drake Kindsvatter for the season – making this a much closer contest than it might appear on the surface. I think WashU pulls it out – they’re just deeper and more talented – but I expect it to be a battle all the way through.

Things to Know: Geography limited how this quadrant could be put together, so it’s very unlikely Case Western Reserve would host the second weekend. Spartan fans should be rooting for upsets in every game! … Trine’s two leading scorers are brothers – Fred and Cortez Garland – both transferred from Albion. … Wabash center, Noah Haupmann, is 7-2. Trust me, someone will ask when he subs into the game.

Players to Watch: CWRU has (in addition to a strong supporting cast) three grad transfers who might star on any given night: point guard Anthony Mazzeo from Baldwin Wallace, forward Colin Kahl from Sewanee, and swingman Preston Maccoux from Wesleyan. … Loras’s Ali Sabet dropped 74 points over a two-game span in February and shoots 41% from three on high volume; he’s the kind of guy who can become a tournament breakout performer. … Trine’s Emmanuel Megnanglo might be, flat out, the best interior defender I’ve ever seen in Division III.

What Will Happen: The top has a bunch of like-for-like matchups. Anderson has size and scoring, but maybe not as much as Hope, which won’t quite be able to match Case Western Reserve, who has some defensive deficiencies, but perhaps not enough to matter until the sectional final. That’s where I think Trine’s steady scoring and rock solid defense overcomes the Spartan onslaught and sends the Thunder 42 miles down I-69 for a practical home tournament in Fort Wayne.

I’ve also got Loras over surprise winners Bethany Lutheran, WashU defeating an Illinois College squad that finally breaks out with a win over Dubuque, and Wabash defeating Coe before falling to fellow Indiana foe, Trine.

Don’t be the last person to have heard of NYU’s Spencer Freedman, right.
Photo by Steve LaBonte, d3photography.com
 

Bottom Right Quadrant

Baruch (19-8) +18 at Randolph-Macon (23-4); St. Joseph, Conn. (24-4) -4.5 vs. Geneva (24-3)
SUNY-New Paltz (20-7) +15 at John Carroll (25-2); Calvin (22-4) -2 vs. Elmhurst (22-5)
Utica (24-3) +12.5 at Trinity, Conn. (26-1); Virginia Wesleyan (19-8) -2 vs. Swarthmore (20-8)
Husson (23-5) +12.5 at NYU (20-5); Tufts (19-7) -3 vs. Stockton (17-10)

Upset Alert: I don’t think JCU escapes the weekend, but I’m not sure a second round loss to Elmhurst or Calvin would be a huge upset. I also think the winner of Tufts and Stockton is more than capable of knocking off NYU; I’m going with the very unique lower Manhattan home court advantage in that one, though. This quadrant is overloaded with national title contenders, though. You wouldn’t be crazy to pick any of five or six teams in this bracket to go all the way, so upsets are the name of the game here.

Most Exciting Game: Tufts-Stockton will be a knock-down, drag-out battle between two very similar teams, but I’m going with an equally heavyweight matchup in Ohio for most exciting. It’s going to take a lot for any team to overcome Calvin’s Jalen Overway, but Elmhurst’s John Baines is one of the very best creative game planners in the country and he’ll have something special in store, no doubt, with a week to prepare. Both teams have multiple all-conference level players with experience, size, and skill. It will be awesome, both on the court and on the sidelines!

Things to Know: Randolph-Macon has lost just two total home games in the last six seasons, which is almost as long as NYU went without any home games at all. The Violets hosted games at auxiliary facilities from 2016 until moving into the brand new Paulson Center this year. … Don’t look for scoring in this pod; Trinity, Virginia Wesleyan, and Randolph-Macon are all in the top eight nationally for scoring defense. Calvin, Tufts, and Swarthmore are all in the top 30. … Michael Savarino of NYU isn’t just a 47% 3pt shooter, he’s the grandson of Duke basketball legend, Mike Krzyzewski – don’t do a double-take if you see a famous fan in the stands!

Players to Watch: NYU’s Spencer Freedman will swing games all on his own. The graduate point guard has an uncanny knack for scoring in bunches at the end of close games. … Stockton’s DJ Campbell is the leading career scorer still playing with 2,150 points; he’s also made the most threes and is second in steals. … JCU’s Luke Chicone and Swarthmore’s Vinny DeAngelo are two All American point guards whose teams will only go as far as they can lead them. … Jalen Overway, Calvin’s massive 6-10 center has already been mentioned – maybe the best big man in Division III – he’s contrasted with RMC’s 6-4 Daniel Mbangue, maybe the smallest big man in the country. A key cog on the 2022 title team, Mbangue continues to defy physics as he racks up points and rebounds down low.

What Will Happen: Man, in this quadrant, it’s anyone’s guess … but here’s mine. I think Trinity. Maybe not a surprise pick at 26-1 and champions of the NESCAC, but they sure aren’t a flashy pick. Defensive minded and a rather pedestrian non-conference schedule, they show up and work hard. Stockton will prove the doubters wrong and win a first round game, before driving NYU to the brink and falling short. The Bantams will make short work of Virginia Wesleyan and then NYU – the Violets have been a lot more vulnerable on the road this year.

Two years ago I picked a quick, athletic team (not unlike St. Joe’s) to knock off RMC; they laughed in my face all the way to the title. Last year, I backed the Yellowjackets and Oswego, a quick, athletic team (not unlike St. Joe’s) took them down. I’m sticking with RMC this year – at least until they face a big team with good shooters, my surprise team: Calvin! Yes, the Knights top Elmhurst and JCU on the back of their big man, Overway (and some truly big guards who get overlooked in his shadow). I do think the run ends at Trinity, though, who can match Calvin’s size and defensive intensity. Trinity goes back to the Final Four for the first time since 1995!

Fort Wayne

My absolutely 100% correct bracket provides us with two awesome matchups in the national semifinals. Hampden-Sydney vs. Keene State and Trine vs. Trinity (Conn.). The latter matchup features two very disciplined, balanced, defensive teams. Ben Callahan-Gold vs. Emmanuel Megnanglo down low. Henry Vetter working against the Garlands. It will be worthy of the surroundings.

The Thunder are not a big three-point shooting team, but Trinity holds opponents under 30% and that’s proven to be important in all of Trine’s recent losses – they were under 25% from deep against Olivet, Calvin, and Hope. Trine doesn’t out-rebound opponents by much, relying more on turnovers for extra possessions. Trinity hits the glass hard and takes care of the ball. If you watch the teams, Trine seems like the better, more balanced squad, but I think Trinity’s unexciting visual style of play wins out in the end. Fundamentals for the win!

On the other side you have Keene State, led by Jeff Hunter, who has all the tools down low. He’s got great footwork and athleticism. He’s intelligent and sees the court well. He’s a good defender with some size who can still move – just a fundamentally sound post player, the epitome of what a Division III big man is all about.

Hampden-Sydney has Davidson Hubbard, though, who excels in a lot of those things and already dominated a great team in John Carroll, on the road, earlier this year. Even if Hunter comes out ahead on that matchup, Hubbard will make him work hard enough as to nullify a lot of the advantage. I think, in the end, HSC just has a lot more depth, toughess, and experience.

I don’t want to say Ryan Cain is magic, but he has a track record of getting his teams one round farther each year than one might otherwise think possible; if he were still on the sidelines I might think of taking Keene in this game, but Cain is now at Johns Hopkins. David Hastings has done a tremendous job of picking up the mantle and leading Keene to the promised land of Fort Wayne, but I think they run into a juggernaut on a mission and HSC moves on.

I think they continue to storm through to the title as well. Trinity’s grit and mistake-free play can only do so much against a team with a similarly formidable defense and some additional offensive capabilities. Adam Brazil running the show. Ryan Clements doing a lot of dirty work. Plus a seemingly endless parade of solid, skilled players way down the bench. I think it’s just too much. The top overall seed wins. A second title in three years for the ODAC and three in a row for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The first time I did this preview, I nailed the champion. Every subsequent edition has been laughably suspect. I don’t know if this call is good luck for Hampden-Sydney or the kiss of death. 

We’ll start finding out on Friday and know for sure March 16. Until then, enjoy the basketball and get busy celebrating all of these tremendous and accomplished student athletes!

 



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