Bracket Breakdown: MCLA Division II
If Davenport has aspirations of repeating as MCLA
Division II national champions, they'll probably have to go
through St. Thomas once again to do it.
Eleven of the 16 teams who went to Denver last year from MCLA Division II will be making the trek to Greenville, S.C., again this spring, including defending national champion Davenport. While St. Thomas is the top seed and presumptive favorite to win it all, there are at least seven teams that could conceivably be holding the trophy aloft on May 19.
It's time to analyze the field. Here's the bracket breakdown.
The Top Seed
Other than a hiccup against blood rival St. John's – a loss they eventually avenged – St. Thomas took care of business this spring. Despite losing some important faces off last year's finalist squad, the Tommies have used a fierce defense led by poles Kevin Gause and Jesse Amar to enter the tourney with a 12-1 record and the big chair.
Last Team In
After a couple of near-misses, the Gaels finally punch their ticket to nationals. Hamstrung by the WCLL, which is the only non-AQ conference in the entire MCLA, St. Mary's must operate in the extremely competitive at-large realm. Bolstered by a key win over Cal State-Fullerton along with respectable outings against Westminster and Concordia, SMC earned its chance. The Gaels will be a No. 13 seed, which means a rematch with No. 3 Westminster in the first round and likely an early exit.
First Team Out
It was a close shave, and the committee liked the competitive nature in which the Warriors played some of the division's top teams, but in the end there weren't any wins to push them past St. Mary's.
Despite a head-to-head win over St. John's, the champs find themselves seeded a spot behind the Johnnies. This usually isn't a big deal, but Concordia is a terrible match-up for the Panthers, especially compared with Elon.
Best First-Round Game
The Briarcliffe-North Dakota State will be intriguing, but I'll be keeping my eye on the SCAD-Grand Canyon game. Will the Bees strong defense be able to handle the relentless onslaught of the 'Lopes offense? Will GCU be able to grind out a win if SCAD wants to take the air out of the ball? It will also be interesting to see how the Bees react after being idle for exactly one month.
Seeded Too High
The Griffins probably benefited from the back-half of the draw being filled with teams they defeated – Sam Houston State, St. Mary's, Western Oregon – but of the two high-end teams that Westminster played, they went 1-1. Despite not playing nearly the quality and quantity of teams in the CCLA, somehow the Griffins leaped two out of three of them. On the flip side, Westminster was egregiously lowballed the last two seasons, so this kind of makes up for it.
Seeded Too Low
It's not off by much, probably just two or three spots, but enough to send a bad message to the rest of the division. The Panthers concocted a schedule that featured six of the top nine teams seeded in Greenville, but were dinged for losing a couple of them. Davenport should be rewarded for what it has done, and be at least a four seed.
The aforementioned layoff for the Bees is going to cause problems. And although SCAD will likely benefit from "home field" advantage (it's about a three-hour drive to Greenville from Savannah), they are going to be taking on a Grand Canyon team as solid as any in the division. The 'Lopes are exceptionally well-coached and have a stud in goal, on close defense and on attack. It could be a quick visit if the Bees aren't sharp.
Best Potential Matchup
Last year, Dayton and St. John's met in the quarterfinals and the Flyers laid the smack down on the Johnnies, 15-8. It was nearly eight goals more than what SJU allowed on average for the entire season. It's looking like we could have history repeat as the two are once again on a collision course as the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds. Dayton is still a frighteningly good offensive team, as it showed with its rout of Davenport in the CCLA semis, and St. John's remains a grinding defensive outfit as its numbers prove once again. We'll see who wins this clash of styles.
Three Players to Watch
Carson Barton, Grand Canyon, Fr., Attack
Greenville will be an important stage for Barton. If he arrives and delivers like he has all season (43g, 22a in 13 games), it could be his coming out party and conduit to future individual awards. However, if he gets silenced by the athletic SCAD defenders who will undoubtedly be keying on him, it will be a damper on what was a superb rookie campaign. The 'Lopes need him to be on because there aren't too many other high-end offensive options for GCU.
Matt Karp, Briarcliffe, Jr., Attack
Karp was always a huge part of the Bulldogs attack, but when junior quarterback Jon Bonacore (28g, 37a in '11) blew out his knee four games into this campaign, Karp has had to be the man up front. John Larkin gives him some breathing room out of the midfield, but Karp will have to build on his current numbers (42g, 7a) if Briarcliffe has any aspirations of cracking the quarterfinals.
Michael King, St. John's, Jr., Goalie
The Johnnies are the only team to qualify for every single MCLA Division II tournament since its inception in 2005, and they have less to show for it than you'd think. They have a finals appearance in '07 (when they got waxed by Montana) and a semis berth in '08 (both during the 12-team days), but it's mostly quarterfinal flameouts other than that. Here's where King steps in. The Johnnies need to flex a little muscle in the tournament, where they've struggled over the last couple of years, and King is the lynchpin. If he's hot, there's no reason SJU can't finally grab the ring.
Don't Be Surprised If...
...if the CCLA gets piggish again and hogs three of the four semifinal berths. The conference teams have once again been inserted in three different bracket quadrants, sparing them the potential for early-round fratricide. If Davenport can navigate its way through the Concordia/Westminster doubleheader, it just might happen. The Panthers triumph last year was a watershed moment for the CCLA, so we'll have to see whether it was just the beginning.