Things happy fast following selection and, in my case, throw in an in-law move and there isn’t a lot of time to reflect on what just occurred prior to the Regionals starting. I will look at some of the decisions in depth but this post is really to hit on some things I found interesting without boring you with a bunch of numbers.
I’ll start by cheating and give you an update on team hitting percentage. Readers know that the last 8 national champions have ended the season in the Top 10 in hitting percentage. No other statistic was even close to being this telling. There were only five teams after the regular season in the top 10 that made the tournament and going into the Elite 8 there is only one – Calvin. The NCAA has updated their statistics and that story hasn’t changed but there is hope for UW-Eau Claire and Emory. These teams sit in a tie for 11th just 0.002 behind Marymount (Va) and Amherst. If history holds, one of these three teams is your champion (assuming either Emory or Eau Claire make up the difference on their way to victory).
Awhile back I looked at the 2017 at-large teams as a whole to determine their average record, SOS and ranked win percentage. (Yes, ranked win percentage is NOT how this criterion is supposed to be evaluated…just stay with me.) You can find that post here. As a side bonus, if you go to that post you can see my leader yell at me in the comments. Here are the numbers for the 2018 teams:
- The average winning percentage of a Pool C team was 0.744 (2017 was 0.776).
- The average SOS of a Pool C team was 0.612 (2017 was 0.603).
- The average ranked wins percentage was 0.526 (2017 was 0.554).
As we all know, two points do not make a line. Wait…it does but a very poor line with this small sample size. All we can really say is that the 2018 at-large teams played a tougher schedule but suffered more losses than last year. Still, maybe this is an indication that tougher schedules are the way to go. Ranked win percentage follows that trend although this criterion is useless without looking at the quality of teams ranked.
From my previous post on averages, we know that very few at-large teams actually exceeded these three averages. This year there was only Hope, Washington-St. Louis, Wellesley, Wesleyan and Whitewater. Saint Benedict just missed out on the SOS number. Interesting that two of the three New England teams exceeded the average this year. I talk a lot about the bigger regions having an advantage but the northeast also gains an advantage being next to another large region. My to-do list includes diving into the 2018 Wellesley schedule to show how their SOS gets created and how (if even possible) a West Region team could recreate it.
For those interested, I also looked at the last team out in each region and compared them against the teams in 2017. We see a decrease in both record and SOS in 2018. There was a slight uptick in ranked win percentage. No team had 2 or more of the at-large average beat. Only Muskingum (record), Susquehanna (SOS) and MIT (record) had one of the averages beat.
My last thing on averages…maybe. Augsburg and Carthage were the only two at-large teams NOT to beat any of the three averages. When I question Franklin & Marshall’s merits then I need to also look at these two teams. In my mock selection, Augsburg was helped by their UW-Eau Claire win greatly. Carthage didn’t make it in with my mock selection.
My readers don’t need to be told which region got the shaft when you compare historic averages versus how many teams were selected this year. Yes, the West Region typically gets 3 (bad year) or 4 selections and only got 2 this year. Their loss was the Central Region’s gain as they had 4 selections compared with their historic average of 2. The Mid-Atlantic also had an extra selection this year at the cost of the Midwest who lost a selection. The New England Region typically gets 3 or 4 selections and “only” got 3 this year.
I guess since I cheated at the start, I’ll cheat at the end. Who wins this thing? It’s hard not to pick Calvin but they may have the toughest road to the championship playing Aurora and then most likely UW-Eau Claire. Still, I’d prefer next year to tell you that 9 of the last national champions have been in the Top 10 of hitting percentage and not 8 out of 9. Give me Calvin over Aurora in a sweep but don’t be surprised if Aurora takes a game. I think UW-Eau Claire sweeps Babson to force a really great match-up with Calvin. Calvin’s my pick so this goes at least 4-sets and a 5-set match is very possible. Calvin’s experience decides this for me. Juniata is a team I like a lot and I think they sweep Wesleyan here. If my predictions hold true then a New England team will fail to win a match in the Elite 8 for the last 9 years. (Don’t check me on that but I did look that up in the past and I think that’s correct. New York was in the same boat until Ithaca won a match last year.) Emory and Ithaca could prove to be very tight. This is a rematch of the Ithaca upset of last year. In fact, I don’t really want to go chalk with these predictions so give me Ithaca here. I think Emory will be motivated and have a chance to win this entire thing but I’ll say they get bounced here. Regardless of who comes through, I like Juniata on this side of the bracket and then a sweep by Calvin in the championship. Why a sweep? Because it has been for the last 3 years.
So, in summary – Calvin, Eau Claire, Juniata and Ithaca in the quarters. Calvin and Juniata in the semis and Calvin to win it all.
I know the West Region is out of this thing but I do encourage everyone to tune in, especially the players. It’s important to support our sport and see what you are missing out on. Motivation peeps! Make 2019 our year.