The DII Men’s Elite Eight is set and ready to tip off on March 27. Let’s see if we can make some sense of what to expect based on looking at brackets of yore.
Heading into the tournament, we took a look back at NCAA DII tournament brackets dating back to the 2012 season, seeing if you could project the future based purely on trends and numbers. We figured out that when it came to DII men’s basketball tournaments of yesteryear, you could trust the No. 1 seeds to reach the Elite Eight.
We did and got three correct: Northwest Missouri State, Nova Southeastern, and West Texas A&M. The problem is that six No. 1 seeds came out of their respective regions, bucking the trend of recent history and busting our bracket wide open.
So, now that we’re in the Elite Eight, can we figure out the champion based on those same brackets?
No. 1 seeds domination of the Elite Eight, past and present
In 2012 and 2013, chances were if you weren’t a No. 1 seed you weren’t making the Elite Eight. Six No. 1 seeds made the quarterfinals in 2012 and an astonishing seven advanced in 2013. Then, slowly, with No. 8 seeded Tuskegee finding its way to the Elite Eight in 2014 the trend changed.
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Less and less No. 1 seeds advanced to the Elite Eight, with no more than four reaching the quarterfinals between 2014 and 2018. Last season saw only three No. 1 seeds advance, with Ferris State claiming the national championship when it was all said and done.
So, what does this mean for the next round?
Trust No. 1 seeds to get to the semifinals
There have been at least two regional No. 1 seeds in the national semifinals in every season since 2012. The 2013 season saw an all No. 1 final four teams standing, which made for quality basketball games but lacked in the suspense department. Of the 28 semifinal teams since 2012, 20 have been escaped their region as the No. 1 seed. You can be sure this will be a semifinal full of them.
Furthermore, there really haven’t been any Cinderella stories that have emerged in the national semifinals. Over that same seven-year span, the lowest seed to advance to the national semifinals is a No. 3 seed and that happened just once when Indiana (Pa) made it to the semis in 2015.
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Let’s take it one step further. In 2016, the NCAA DII tournament began to seed the teams Nos. 1 through 8 once they reached the quarterfinals. How well has the committee done at projecting the top four seeds to advance to the semifinals? Though a small sample size, there has yet to be a national semifinal without the Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 seeds advancing.
The odds are that much stronger that No. 1 Northwest Missouri State, No. 2 West Texas A&M, No. 3 Queens (NC), and No. 4 Nova Southeastern advance. And guess what: they came out of their regions as No. 1 seeds, which further matches the history and trends of the Elite Eight.
The national championship game
So, if we stick to our semifinal’s projections based on brackets past, we are heading for a guaranteed No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup in the championship game. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. In four of the seven years of our research, the national title came down to a pair of No. 1s.
So, of the four semifinalists, which advance? Let’s look at those freshly ranked Elite Eight seeds. In the first two seasons, we have a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, just as projected. Northern State changed the trend last season as the No. 3 seed. So, it looks like the odds are against Nova Southeastern as the No. 4 seed.
Queens is the No. 3 seed in the Elite Eight. Last season, they were the first No. 2 not to reach the semifinals, losing to Northern State in a thriller, 105-99. If history were to repeat itself it makes for a highly intriguing matchup in the semifinals. No. 2 West Texas A&M and No. 3 Queens were both in the national semifinals last season. Both teams lost the bulk of its top scorers, meaning it may look the same, but it’s completely different. This may come down to which youngsters play the most like seasoned veterans, in which case, history and trends mean nothing.
Does that make it any easier to project the championship game?
Nope. Based purely on history, we know Northwest Missouri State has the best odds of appearing in the championship game. With so much talent in our projected final four teams, the second spot is up for grabs.
Northwest Missouri State will win, maybe
In the past seven years, there has only been one national champion that is not a No. 1 seed. That came in 2014 when Central Missouri defeated West Liberty. Know why? Neither of those teams was a No. 1 seed, as it was our only No. 2 vs. No. 2 final in our research.
UNDEFEATED TRACKER: How far will the Bearcats go?
Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Since the committee began newly seeding the Elite Eight, the No. 1 seed has won just once. Barely. No. 1 Ferris State won 71-69 in one of the most exciting championship games in DII basketball history. The other two seasons saw the No. 2 seed rise victorious, one of those No. 2s being Northwest Missouri State in 2017 when it downed No. 1 Fairmont State 71-61.
That said, going back ten years to 2009, only one team entered the national championship game undefeated. That was 35-0 Findlay, which needed an overtime buzzer-beater by Tyler Evans to finish 36-0. The Bearcats enter the quarterfinals already 35-0, looking to tie Ferris State’s historic 38-win season from a year ago. Of course, Northwest Missouri State will do it minus the one loss.
Bracket predictions based on historical data
National semifinals: Northwest Missouri State, West Texas A&M, Queens, Nova Southeastern
Finals: Northwest Missouri State, West Texas A&M
Champion: Northwest Missouri State 77 (average score of the winners since 2012), West Texas A&M 70 (average scores of the runners-up since 2012).