There’s still a long way to go on the Road to Omaha, but the Division II and III Championships are getting going this weekend. The D2 tournament starts on Saturday in Cary, NC, while the D3 event gets underway Friday morning in Appleton, Wisc.
Long-time readers know that I’m unhealthily obsessed with small college baseball. So in the spirit of MLB Playoff Odds, I wrote simulators for the double-elimination formats used in the D2 and D3 World Series (yes, they’re slightly different formats). Throw in strength rating for the participating teams, and we’ve got ourselves some predictions.
A lot of worthy teams didn’t qualify for a trip to Cary. Many of those schools were packed into just two regionals: the one hosted by Southern Arkansas and the one at South Carolina-Aiken. Of the 30-plus D2 schools for which I have complete data, Southern Arkansas is far and away the best D2 team this year. But from the regional they hosted, Lynn advanced to the final round.
The second best team this year? That honor may go to Barry (Fla.) which was also placed in the Southern Arkansas regional. Also in that regional field: Tampa, a perennial contender, and Florida Southern, home of draft prospect Robbie Shields. Nonetheless, Lynn somehow came out on top. Lynn certainly looks like a stronger contender than it did a week ago. At the very least, that team is hot.
Interestingly, after Southern Arkansas, Barry, and UC San Diego, the fourth-best team I found was Mount Olive, last year’s champion and this year’s host. They didn’t even get a bid into a regional tournament after losing their conference championship to Belmont Abbey.
Let’s look at the field and their odds of taking home the trophy:
School Poll Strength Odds UC San Diego 2 0.794 26.1% Emporia State 17 0.750 15.6% Lynn NR 0.730 13.5% Grand Valley State 11 0.730 12.3% Mesa State 29 0.707 10.2% Belmont Abbey NR 0.692 8.5% Dowling NR 0.697 8.2% West Chester 4 0.656 5.6%
“Strength” is Pythagorean winning percentage adjusted for strength of schedule. I don’t have full game logs for all of the 600 or so D2 and D3 schools, so I wasn’t able to do much in the way of “opponent’s opponent’s winning percentage,” but made do with each team’s performances along with those of their own opponents.
Lynn is granted a head start in their chase for the title with a first-round matchup against West Chester (Pa.). West Chester won plenty of games and played a tough schedule, but they got lucky; their un-adjusted Pythagorean winning percentage of .609 is extraordinarily low by the standards of national contenders.
There’s a similar quirk in the bracket separating Belmont Abbey (N.C.) and Dowling (N.Y.). Those two underdogs look better on paper than I (or any voters in the national poll) would’ve expected, but each still has a tough road. Dowling’s is tougher, with UC San Diego waiting for them in the first round.
Now that we’ve seen some numbers, you can get a better idea of just how strong that Southern Arkansas regional was. Here are four of the teams that fought it out with Lynn:
School Poll Strength Southern Ark 1 0.865 Barry 3 0.813 Tampa 10 0.729 FL Southern 14 0.691
If Southern Arkansas had qualified instead of Lynn, I’d be giving them a 43 percent chance of winning it all. Instead, the field is much more open.
Let’s get right to the predictions for the weekend in Appleton:
School Poll Strength Odds Shenandoah (VA) 17 0.830 22.0% Trinity (CT) 5 0.820 18.5% Carthage (WI) 7 0.803 14.5% Chapman (CA) NR 0.782 11.0% Wooster (OH) 9 0.773 9.2% St. Thomas (MN) 18 0.767 8.8% Kean (NJ) 13 0.769 8.5% Farmingdale (NY) NR 0.759 7.4%
As in Division II, there are plenty of top teams missing. The Eastern Connecticut regional was nearly as tough as the tourney in Southern Arkansas, featuring national No. 3 Eastern CT (.853), No. 5 Trinity, and No. 6 Southern Maine (.776).
The West Regional was no cakewalk either. Chapman had to outduel national No. 1 Pomona-Pitzer (.811), Cal Lutheran (.792), and Texas-Tyler (.776).
The elimination that changed the complexion of the tournament, however, was in neither of those regionals. Salisbury (Md.) sat at or near the top of national rankings all season long, and they deserved it. Even after losing to Christopher Newport and Johns Hopkins in their regional, their strength rating is an other-worldly .907. If Salisbury had made it out of the South Regional in Shenandoah’s place, my simulator would’ve given them a breathtaking 51 percent chance of winning it all.
By contrast, the final team to be eliminated in a regional—Wisconsin-Whitewater—doesn’t look very good on paper. Despite pushing Carthage to a title game, its strength rating is .606, by far the lowest of the contenders I looked at. If Whitewater had earned the final spot instead of Carthage, their chances of winning the tournament would have been only 1.3 percent.
If you’re a believer in momentum, you might as well throw away everything up to this point. Because of the structure of the regional tournaments, the weakest teams (Belmont Abbey, Dowling, and Farmingdale in particular) have had the biggest obstacles in their paths. Those are the teams riding high, and if they can maintain that level of intensity over a few off-days, there could be some big surprises coming up in Cary and Appleton.