In a change of pace from the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball March Madness, we take a look at the final day of the regular season for the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) at attempt to understand a seemingly chaotic finish in NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball. Tomorrow (February 21st) is the final day of the regular season and eight of the nine teams play their final game; North Central already completing their 16 game conference schedule.
In the CCIW, only the top four teams can move on to the Conference Tournament. With 451 NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball teams, there is little room for error in obtaining a bid for the NCAA Tournament in March.
There are only 62 spots available in the NCAA Tournament, as the top two seeds are granted byes. Of those 62 spots, the 46 conference champions are guaranteed a spot; leaving only a mere 16 “at-large” bids to be debated by the small Division III committee for the remaining 405 schools. This means, there may be Top-25 teams that will be left out of the tournament. Compare this to Division I, which has 36 at large bids for the remaining 319 teams.
So it’s effectively win or go home for most conferences. The CCIW has one lone representative in the Top-25: Augustana at No. 24. This means the Vikings are on the bubble heading into the CCIW tournament. With a loss in their final game, they could find themselves out of the Top-25 in no time. Note: However, this requires 16 teams in front of them to lose their conference tournaments as well; a highly unlikely task.
CCIW Race for the Playoffs
That said, the race to get into the CCIW playoffs is fierce. With only four teams getting in, Augustana, North Park, and Carthage have already punched their tickets. The final spot is currently held by North Central; a half game ahead of Illinois-Wesleyan, Carroll, and Wheaton college. So this means Illinois-Wesleyan, Carroll, and Wheaton all have to win to have a chance of making the CCIW Tournament. Let’s take a look at the tie breaking procedures for the final playoff spot.
Wheaton @ Carthage
Augustana @ Illinois-Wesleyan
Millikin @ North Park
Carroll @ Elmhurst
Now that everything seems hectic with a four-way tie looming, everything is in North Central’s court. The reason is that North Central owns a 2-0 record over both Wheaton and Illinois-Wesleyan. This means both school are eliminated from the playoffs!
So what this race really comes down to is North Central vs. my alma mater and former team: Carroll University. The only way Carroll can get into the conference tournament is to get a win over Elmhurst while Augustana and Carthage take care of business. This is a seemingly straightforward task, as Augustana and Carthage are in a dead heat for first place in the conference.
If Augustana wins, they earn first place outright. Otherwise, a loss puts them in danger of tying Carthage, who holds a tie-breaker over Augustana. This means Carroll needs help from both these teams if they want to get in to the playoffs.
So how likely is this to happen? Let’s take a look at the entire conference schedule…
Strength of Schedule: Team Rating
Since only conference play indicates making the conference tournament, we take a look at only conference games. In this case, we can consider each team of having a rating that indicates their strength within the conference. The most common method is the Colley Method, which takes each win as a weighted Bernoulli random variable. The team with the higher weight is more likely to win. By writing out the Bernoulli process, we obtain the matrix equation Cr = b, where:
Solving the matrix equation for r, we obtain the strength of each team. For the CCIW this year, we have:
This shows that Augustana is indeed the top team in the conference, but North Park has an advantage over Carthage. This seems counter-intuitive as Carthage swept North Park: 82-76 at North Park on January 4th, and 91-88 in a double overtime thriller at home on February 8th. However, North Park’s losses are to Augustana (1), Carthage (2), Wheaton (1), and North Central (1). Carthage’s losses are to Augustana (1), Illinois-Wesleyan (2), Wheaton (1), and Carroll (1).
Given these rankings, we can now estimate the probabilities for each team making the playoffs and winning the conference.
Augustana is in a must win game. If they lose, they have a strong chance of falling out of first place as both North Park and Carthage are holding tie-breakers over the Vikings. Augustana is playing a dead-in-the-water Illinois-Wesleyan, who can only play spoiler to both Augustana and Carroll. With the game being played in Bloomington, anything can happen; particularly for out-going seniors Andy Stempel and Trevor Seibring who will be trying to end their season with a W. Seeing Illinois-Wesleyan first hand at Carroll back on January 21st, you can’t discount the fight these Titans will have. The Titans are a blue collar team that are capable of big wins. This will be the game to watch on the final day of action.
Prediction: Augustana 77, Illinois-Wesleyan 73; Augustana 54.165% chance to win.
Carthage is also looking to secure first place, but have a bigger uphill battle than North Park. Carthage is playing Wheaton while North Park takes on Millikin. Millikin has only one conference win under their belt and that was against the 3-12 Blue Jays of Elmhurst. Most games have been quite decisive with Millikin having been outscored by 260 points over their 15 conference games; losing by an average of 17 points a game. And that’s including their 25 point win over Elmhurst. Millikin has not been in a single digit contest since January. This trend will most likely continue.
Prediction: North Park 83, Millikin 51; North Park 93.877% chance to win.
This leaves Carthage in a precarious position. They hold a tie breaker over North Park and Augustana. They can only finish in third if they lose and both North Park and Augustana win. Wheaton has a dynamic team that is capable of grinding out wins behind leading scorer Alston Francis and do-it-all player Luke Peters; both are sophomore guards with still a lot of upside left in them. Wheaton stormed back into relevance by punching out 4 wins in their previous 5 contests, losing to Carroll just a couple days back. The Thunder also have a couple tough losses: a pair of 2-point losses to Augustana, double-overtime 4 point loss to North Central at home, and a 4-point loss to North Park; Wheaton could be sitting at 10-5 just as easily as 8-7. Carthage, a much more balanced team with six legitimate scorers can quell the sophomore duo. This will be an interesting game only from the perspective of Wheaton trying to end on a bang and upend Carroll’s season.
Prediction: Carthage 74, Wheaton 68; Carthage 55.853% chance to win.
This brings us to our final game: Carroll versus Elmhurst. Elmhurst owns the season series so far with a 69-56 win back on December 7th in Waukesha, WI. At that point, Elmhurst was in the midst of going 3-4 to start the season. Carroll started the season hot at 6-1 with wins over a few shaky teams: Principia, East-West, and Rockford. Soon both teams settled into their styles of play. Elmhurst would deal with the injury bug while Carroll would play up-and-down basketball with key wins over Augustana, Carthage, and Illinois-Wesleyan; only to lose to Elmhurst, Illinois-Wesleyan, and Wheaton. Because of this, it will be a question mark to see which Carroll team shows up.
Elmhurst will be missing two key starters: Jake Rhode and Chris Parrilli, which have been out majority of the season. To give insight to this, Elmhurst has started 13 different players against 24 games. Seven of those players have started ten or more times. Given this chaotic series of line-up changes, Elmhurst has managed to pick up wins over Carroll and North Central. Despite this, they have no consistency across the board and poses an opportunity for Carroll to win and grab that number four spot.
Carroll on the other hand is a live-by-the-three / die-by-the-three team, reminiscent of the old Gary Richert days of the four-out motion offense during the late 90’s. Nearly half of Carroll’s offense is through the three ball and in their loss to Elmhurst earlier in the season, the Pioneers shot a cold thirty percent from the field. Carroll will need to get it going with Kyle Keranen, Ben Widdes, and Tanner Zaeske. The Pioneers are undersized and will need the interior presence of Tyler Ingebrigtsen to anchor the defense. If Ingebrigtsen plays as tough as he did against the Seibring of Illinois-Wesleyan on back in January, expect the Pioneers to run away with this game early.
Prediction: Carroll 65, Elmhurst 59; Carroll 58.315% chance to win.
Probabilities of Winning the Conference / Making the Playoffs
With the analysis above, here’s the breakdown for each team making the playoffs:
|Team||Final Game||Win Conference||Second Place||Third Place||Fourth Place|
How do you think the season will play out? Every game is tomorrow night! Be sure to livestream in for all the action!
Carroll vs. Elmhurst (Elmhurst Live Stream)
Augustana vs. Illinois-Wesleyan (Illinois-Wesleyan Listen In)
Carthage vs. Wheaton (Carthage Live Stream)
North Park vs. Millikin (North Park Live Stream)