The differences between South Region conferences are probably murkier this year than in years past. There were 31 inter-conference games between the GSC, SSC, and SIAC, though, and I’ll make an attempt to say something about the conferences’ relative quality.
Gulf South Conference
The GSC played in 30 of those 31 games, but what’s also important in the GSC is comparing inter-division games, of which there were 26, on top of the 30 inter-conference games. The East went 15-11 against the West, which is actually an inflated figure because lowly West Alabama went 1-6 against the West on their own. The three GSC West teams that tied for the division lead went 3-7 against the East, mostly against the UNA-UAH duo. Then again, Henderson State’s only D-II win of the season came against West Alabama. Still, I would say that the average East team is slightly better than an average West team because of these results.
The East split 14 games against the SSC, but virtually all of their wins were against teams finishing .500 or below in SSC conference play. Valdosta State went 1-4 against the SSC, with all four of their losses coming to the top SSC teams. The East also went 6-3 against the SIAC, with West Georgia notably defeating Benedict in a one-point game.
The West was 3-0 against middling SIAC teams and 3-1 against the SSC, with no games against the top teams in that conference. Geography played a role in this, but the GSC needs to be playing more quality regional opponents in general if the teams want to look the best they can for the selection committee.
Overall, the GSC has a number of strong teams, but perhaps only UNA and CBU should be considered as good as the group of solid SSC schools. The rest, including Harding and OBU, probably belong a notch below those teams.
Sunshine State Conference
The SSC’s only game against the SIAC was an Eckerd win over Tuskegee, which really doesn’t tell me anything. They actually had a losing record against the GSC, but Florida Southern, Tampa, and Eckerd were 5-0, while Lynn, St. Leo, Barry, and Nova Southeastern (all .500 or worse) had all 10 of the SSC’s losses. There’s clearly a division here between good and bad teams, but the former three schools seem to belong at the top of a very competitive region’s rankings.
Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
The SIAC is very frustrating to me, since their lengthy conference schedule prevents them from playing many in-region games against the GSC and SSC. They managed to fit in 10 such games and predictably came up short 70% of the time.
The most damaging loss for the SIAC was by their 20-2 champion Benedict to West Georgia, which was merely better than average in the GSC and bowed out in the conference tournament quarterfinals to Christian Brothers. Their #2 team, LeMoyne-Owen, was demolished by both CBU and UAM. Miles was the only SIAC team to show signs of life outside the conference, beating UAH and West Alabama, but losing to UNA. Albany State picked up the conference’s other win, which was against Valdosta.
Despite their record, I think the SIAC is perhaps in position to say they were more competitive this year than the last, and Benedict was so thoroughly dominant that I’ve come around a bit on them. I think they can hang with some of the other good teams in the region, although Eckerd looks like a very tough draw for them.
Evaluating the seeds
- Florida Southern (SSC champ)
- Benedict (SIAC champ)
- Tampa (SSC runner-up)
- North Alabama (GSC East champ)
- Christian Brothers (GSC champ)
- Harding (GSC West champ)
- Eckerd (SSC #2-tied regular-season)
- Ouachita Baptist (GSC West co-champ)
The committee basically had to give the SSC winner the #1 seed, although I think CBU and UNA can definitely play with those teams. I don’t see the justification for Benedict as the #2 seed at all. Clearly the committee is willing to disregard the SIAC’s record against the other conferences in the region and is blinded by their gaudy overall record. They deserve to be in the tournament, but I would have given them no higher than the #7 seed (after the top 3 from both the SSC and GSC). Christian Brothers seemed like the best pick for the #2 seed to me, given their overall record, GSC win, and stellar recent play.
Tampa is a deserving #3 seed, since they are playing the best of any SSC team other than Florida Southern. North Alabama probably had a good argument for that spot as well, but the GSC semifinal loss to Christian Brothers probably sealed their fate. CBU deserved a higher ranking than #5, but I think the committee got the best four non-SIAC teams correct.
The Bisons got almost exactly what they deserved for once, and they’ll actually be spared a rematch against Christian Brothers because of Benedict’s high seed. I think Eckerd had a pretty good argument for a higher seed, perhaps ahead of Harding, but the Bisons’ GSC run gave them the edge in the eyes of the committee. I’m not as sour on Benedict as I was before doing this evaluation, but I can’t deny that I would have looked forward to an HU-Benedict matchup in the first round.
OBU lucked out because the three automatic bids went to teams that were already ranked ahead of them at #8. I can’t remember that happening in the last couple of years, so the Tigers should consider themselves fortunate to have made the field. I think Florida Tech was probably the next best team that could have been chosen, although VSU may have been given a shot there as well.
I’ll preview the regional matchups in more detail later this week, and even though I haven’t been tracking stats for the other teams in the region, I might mess around with some numbers to see if I can approximate each team’s odds of winning.