Evaluating Postseason Chances

The second half of the GSC conference season begins tonight, and the Bisons will travel to UAM for what should be another hard-fought game. Because of the team’s hot start and current first-place standing, HU is ranked #7 in the latest D-II South Region rankings that were released yesterday. The top 8 teams make the NCAA Tourney in March, although 3 of those spots will go to the champions of three conference tournaments (GSC, Sunshine State, SIAC).

So, only the top five are theoretically guaranteed a spot in the tournament.  Below are the full rankings, along with each team’s current conference standing.

  1. Tampa (SSC #1 – tie)
  2. Florida Southern (SSC #1 – tie)
  3. North Alabama (GSC East #2 – tie)
  4. Benedict (SIAC #1)
  5. Rollins (SSC #3 – tie)
  6. Alabama-Huntsville (GSC East #1)
  7. Harding (GSC West #1)
  8. Ouachita Baptist (GSC West #2 – tie)
  9. Florida Tech (SSC #5)
  10. West Georgia (GSC East #2 – tie)

In order to reach the top 5, it looks like Harding will need to finish their conference season about the same way they started it, about 6-1.  I see a couple of obstacles in the way of repeating that record, which I will discuss, but it’s worth noting that the Bisons haven’t found themselves in a position this solid in several years.

  1. Four road games, three home games.  The Bisons had it the other way around, and in the second half of the schedule, the Bisons will have to visit four contenders: UAM, OBU, ATU, and CBU.
  2. The talent disparity in the league is very small.  The best GSC West team currently has a +8.3 net efficiency rating, while the sixth best is +1.9.  Those consider only conference games.  In terms of expected or Pythagorean record, all six of those teams are between 5-2 and 4-3, meaning that one or two slight slip-ups would severely hurt a team’s standing in the division.  HU has a head start, but 4-3 is perhaps the most realistic record to hope for over the next 7 games, especially given the road schedule, and 4-3 might not be enough to stay #7 in the rankings.
  3. Conference tournaments.  Since at least 8 teams will play in each conference tournament, the likelihood of even the favorite winning that tournament is not strong.  That makes it a very strong possibility that someone outside the top 8 in the rankings will win a conference tournament, forcing out a higher-ranked team.

The Bisons would be off to a good start if they can handle UAM on the road tonight.  An NCAA Tourney berth would be the second in team history and the first since my freshman year in 2003.

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