The 2022 DII Men’s Basketball Championship tips off March 11. Both the Midwest and West Region will get the ball rolling as 64 teams meet on a collision course for Evansville, Ind. and the 2022 DII Men's Elite Eight.
Before the first game gets under way, let’s break down the bracket and see how close I can get in predicting the outcome.
First, a historical perspective (per the official NCAA.org DII Elite Eight record book). It’s important to note, if you’re looking for an upset-heavy bracket… DII men’s basketball is not the place. In 2019 — the last 64-team bracket — half of the eight regions saw a second round that was expected, meaning four regions had the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds advance from the first round. Ten of the 16 teams remaining in the third round were a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed, and only one seed below the No. 4 made it that far and that was No. 6 Missouri Southern. Six No. 1 seeds advanced to the DII Men's Elite Eight.
Since 2003, when the bracket expanded to 64 teams and eight regions, there have been 18 quarterfinals — now the DII Elite Eight — played. That means 144 teams have made the DII Elite Eight during that time. Of those 144 teams, more than half have been No. 1 seeds (79 total). There has never been fewer than three No. 1 seeds represented in the DII Elite Eight since expansion and there has been a yearly average of 4.4 No. 1 seeds per DII Men's Elite Eight. That’s more than half… and that does not favor the underdog. The most No. 1 seeds to make a DII Men's Elite Eight in a single season was seven in 2013, and the one team that wasn’t a No. 1 seed… was a No. 2.
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Breaking it down further, 27 No. 2 seeds have made it. That means 74 percent of teams in the men’s DII Elite Eight over that same span have been a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed, so you know where to start building your bracket. Surprisingly, more No. 4 seeds (13) have made it than No. 3 seeds (9). If you’re looking for a deep Cinderella, the DII Men's Elite Eight isn’t the place. Just one eight seed has made it to the last dance and that was way back in 2014 (Tuskegee).
That’s not to say there won’t be a few upsets. There are some very strong Nos. 6 and 7 seeds in this field. However, going all the way back to 1994, 14 teams seeded No, 6, 7 or 8 have found their way to the quarterfinals. Of those 14, a grand total of zero won their quarterfinal game.
Are there any diamonds in the rough this year? Let’s take a look.
The Atlantic is interesting. It has a balance of DII men’s basketball heavyweights in West Liberty, Indiana (Pa) and Mercyhurst and three teams making their long-awaited return in Cal (Pa) and Millersville — both making their first appearance since 2008 — and West Virginia State returning for the first time since 2010.
If we want to stick to historical trends in picking the bracket, West Liberty is a good pick. We know almost 20 percent of men's DII Elite Eight teams have been No. 2 seeds, but also, West Liberty has made six of the last 10 DII Men's Elite Eights. Indiana (Pa) will give the Hilltoppers a battle, but now fully healthy, West Liberty gets the pick.
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This is a hard region to pick. If we are looking to stick to historical trends, the No. 3 seed has not had much success. Of the nine No. 3 seeds to make it to the quarterfinals, three came in 2004, the second year of the then-new format. Just one No. 3 seed has made it to the DII Men's Elite Eight in the past five years, and that was West Liberty last season.
So the question is: Are you picking against the Bearcats?
It seems unwise this time of year. Winners of three of the last four championships and a No. 1 seed when 2020 got shut down, March is Bearcat season. But it won’t be easy. Both Augustana (SD) and Minnesota Duluth are very good teams and if Washburn can upset Minnesota Duluth, that sets up yet another Ichabods vs. Bearcats postseason showdown. All that is to say that Northwest Missouri State is still the pick.
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Throw history out the window here. If you’re looking for any sort of pattern — don’t. It has been a different team representing the East in the DII Men's Elite Eight in each of the last eight tournaments. You have to go all the way back to 2012 to find a team that has made two trips to the men's DII Elite Eight, and that team — Stonehill — isn’t even in the 2022 tournament.
If you do want to stay the course, Bentley is a solid No. 1 seed, leading the NE10 in scoring offense, rebounds, assists and efficiency. The Falcons have beaten all the regionally ranked opponents they have faced in this portion of the bracket, so we know they can handle the competition. St. Thomas Aquinas is an intriguing pick, especially sneaking in as the No. 7 seed. The Spartans have a lot of momentum, having lost just once since Dec. 1. The last No. 7 seed to make the DII Men's Elite Eight was Barry in 2018, but the Spartans have as good a chance as any to be the next. This still looks like the Falcons' region, however.
Since Bellarmine left for Division I, there hasn’t been much consistency in a single program owning this part of the bracket. And this was a wild part of the bracket, wasn’t it? Davenport and Missouri-St. Louis were outside the top eight in the final regional rankings and won their way in, bumping two teams from the mix. Ferris State was knocked out in the first round of the GLIAC tourney. March has already begun to March in the Midwest.
Truman has been an enigma all season. Cade McKnight is one of the best players in the land, and while, yes, the Bulldogs are a nine-loss team, they also played the 28th toughest schedule in DII men’s basketball. That said, they were bumped from the GLVC tournament early and certainly left a question mark heading into the DII tournament. That’s why Walsh is the pick. The Cavaliers entered conference championship week the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and the No. 1 seed in the G-MAC and that’s how they left. They shoot the ball well, rebound very well and defend well. This team seems DII Men's Elite Eight bound.
We are halfway through the bracket. So far, we have two No. 1 seeds, a No. 2, and a No. 3. So, we know, based on history alone, at least one more No. 1 seed will make it and likely at least one more No. 2. Let’s see if we can find those seeds in the second half of the bracket.
That was quick — here’s the No. 1 seed. Nova Southeastern is undefeated and handled a tough schedule to get there. This team is tops in DII in so many categories and has three of the best players in DII men’s basketball running the floor. Nick Smith leads DII in steals, assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, Sekou Sylla is a double-double seemingly nightly and RJ Sunahara can score with the best of them but is also one of the best defenders in the land. Plus, the Sharks have beaten Barry and Embry-Riddle multiple times, and those are the next best two teams in this part of the bracket.
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Alabama Huntsville, any other year, would be an intriguing No. 7 seed to go far into the tournament. The Chargers can upset Barry or Embry-Riddle but getting through both is a tall order for any team. Look for a Chargers upset in Round 1.
What a balanced part of the bracket. If anyone picks this region completely correct all the way to the DII Men's Elite Eight, give yourself a pat on the back. Any one of the top five seeds can win this. We will likely see one more Queens (NC) vs. Lincoln Memorial showdown, which has become one of the great rivalries over the past decade. This may be the Royals' turn and a victory over the Railsplitters should propel them back to the DII Men's Elite Eight and second time in three tournaments.
Jaizec Lottie makes Flagler arguably the most dangerous No. 5 seed in the field. The Saints are looking for a second-straight trip to the DII Men's Elite Eight, but to get there, they need to beat UNC Pembroke and then possibly Augusta and then the winner of Queens/Lincoln Memorial. That is quite the road traveled.
Here’s another very tricky part of the bracket. Texas A&M-Commerce is a pretty solid No. 8 seed... except the Lions play one of the best teams in DII men’s basketball to open the tournament. Lubbock Christian has been fantastic all season and Parker Hicks is a game-changing player that can turn a tourney game on his own. So is Black Hills State’s Joel Scott, and the Yellow Jackets draw a DBU team that has lost three in a row entering the tournament.
This likely comes down to West Texas A&M and Lubbock Christian. This may be Tom Brown’s most impressive job coaching and that says something about one of the best in DII. His Buffs were gutted, and they are right back on track. There hasn’t been a DII Men's Elite Eight without West Texas A&M since 2017. That streak stays alive this year.
Welcome to the Wild West. The CCAA was a battle all year, and Cal State San Marcos was the one that came out on top. As we saw in the regular season, the Cougars, Cal State San Bernardino and Chico State are equally talented teams that can beat up on each other and make for exciting basketball. Each one is a true contender for Evansville.
There’s just something about Point Loma this year. The Sea Lions — the 2019 national runners-up — looked to be unstoppable… until they were stopped by Academy of Art. But this team was 4-6 at one point and now looks very strong and Kaden Anderson is a baller.
The DII Men's Elite Eight
We had three No. 1 seeds, three No. 2 seeds, one No. 3 seed and Point Loma at No. 4. However, the final eight are reseeded once in Evansville. So, not only is it tricky enough picking the winners, if the prediction of the seeds is off, the whole bracket goes, what the experts call, kablooey.
- No. 1 Nova Southeastern
- No. 2 West Liberty
- No. 3 Northwest Missouri State
- No. 4 West Texas A&M
- No. 5 Queens (NC)
- No. 6 Walsh
- No. 7 Bentley
- No. 8 Point Loma
Then it’s anyone’s ball game, but this seems like the year head coach Jim Crutchfield reaches the apex with Nova Southeastern, completing one of the biggest program turnarounds in the history of DII.