Welcome to DII men's basketball playoff basketball. The bracket is filled and the moment these 64 teams have been waiting for since fall practices is upon us. However, as I said on the DII men's basketball selection show, it's all fun and games until you play Northwest Missouri State in March.
As the Bearcats prepare to try and capture their fourth title in a row, let's try to predict the outcome of the entire bracket. As always, it is important to look at history (per the official NCAA.org DII Elite Eight record book) when trying to make sense of the DII men's basketball championship bracket. And the single most important thing to remember is this: It turns midnight early for Cinderellas in DII men's basketball.
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What does that mean? Looking back at last year's article, let's just add to the numbers. The bracket expanded to its 64-team version back in 2003 (that's back before you could share game-winning shots on TikTok or Instagram stories!). That is when the field broke down into eight regions with eight teams battling for one spot in the quarterfinals, which would eventually become what is now coined the DII Men's Elite Eight. With the 2020 tournament cancelled due COVID-19, we have 19 tournaments and, more specifically, 19 DII Elite Eights to work with. That is no small sample size.
So that means 152 teams have played in the DII Men's Elite Eight over that span and 83 have been No. 1 seeds from their respective regions. Think about that. If you earn the No. 1 seed heading into the tournament, you have a greater than 50 percent change of making it to the DII Men's Elite Eight. Want proof? Last year in 2022, exactly half the field was No. 1 seeds, or 50 percent. There has not been a single DII Men's Elite Eight with less than three No. 1 seeds since 2003.
The other four teams last year? They were all No. 3 seeds. Over the past five years, again a decent sample size, there have been 21 No. 1 seeds out of 40 DII Men's Elite Eight teams, eight No. 2s, six No. 3s, two No. 4s, one No. 5, and two No. 7s. The only No. 8 seed to ever make it that far was Tuskegee back in 2014.
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So, all this is to say, be careful. If you fill out your bracket with every higher seed winning all the way to the Elite Eight, chances are you are going to do very well. We did see quite a few first-round stunners last year, so there may be more in the future, but by the third round, most regions returned to normal. What does my bracket look like?
I'm glad you asked.
Every game in the DII men’s basketball championship bracket, predicted
Team to beat: Indiana (PA). There are a lot of good teams in this part of the bracket, and keep in mind, there has been a different Atlantic champion every year since 2016. So while it is very difficult to repeat here, the Crimson Hawks' defense may be the driving force that allows them to pull it off.
Team to watch: Mercyhurst. It seems like West Liberty's high-flying offense and IUP's stingy defense are on a collision course for the regional championship. However, the Lakers have played IUP extremely tough on two occasions, holding them to season lows of 49 and 53 points. This team isn't afraid of anyone.
Most likely upset: Fairmont State. Virginia Union is a very good ball team; however, they are winning games by a mere 6.6 points per game. That is a lot of close games, and you don't want to have a defense that wins close games against an offense that has Isaiah Sanders and scores 93 points per game.
Team to beat: Seriously? OK, I'll play along. The Bearcats are rolling, winners of 16 in a row with the nation's best scoring defense and having defeated two tournament teams in Emporia State and Central Oklahoma to get back to the No. 1 seed. Oh yeah, Diego Bernard may win player of the year and Bennett Stirtz has been the best freshman in the division.
Team to watch: Southern Nazarene. It wasn't long ago that the Storm were tournament regulars, but after a brief hiatus, they are back. And they are back with the third-best scoring defense in DII men's basketball. That Storm defense and balanced scoring attack may be the trick.
Most likely upset: See above. Southern Nazarene beats MSU Moorhead but keep an eye on Minnesota Duluth. Central Oklahoma is one of the best teams and defenses in DII, but the Bulldogs may be the best six seed in the entire tournament. That's a dangerous first-round matchup.
Team to beat: Saint Anselm. Bentley has a really good chance, but the Falcons were in the DII Elite Eight last year. A team hasn't repeated here in a long time, so the Hawks have to be the team to beat. They are on a five-game winning streak in which they have defeated potential second-round opponent New Haven twice as well as both Bentley and Pace, two DII tournament teams. That's an impressive five-game run.
Team to watch: New Haven. The Chargers have a stingy defense, the best in the NE10 to be precise, and can do some damage to this part of the bracket. Center Majur Majak has been a force all season in the middle, leading the NE10 in rebounds and blocks. Having that kind of presence down low makes things tough on offenses.
Most likely upset: St. Thomas Aquinas over Southern New Hampshire. The Penmen are very good and were actually one of my teams to watch in March. That said, the ECC champs are a tough first-round matchup. The Spartans are a 26-win team, are playing in their eighth-straight regional, and led their conference in scoring offense while posting the second-best scoring defense. This is a well-balanced team.
Team to beat: After the past weekend, who knows, but let's go Ashland. The Eagles are the only upper seed with some sort of momentum and recently had to defeat a nationally ranked Hillsdale team to win the G-MAC. Obviously, you need to watch UIndy as the No. 1 host seed, but with two losses to UMSL in the past couple weeks, this is a team trending in the wrong direction.
Team to watch: Hillsdale. The Chargers have struggled through some mighty big change this season, losing two of the best players in program history that made them the Midwest team to beat the past two seasons. All that matter is those returning players that are back are once again in the dance and have enough experience to make a surprise run in a region with anything but certainty.
Most likely upset: Wisconsin-Parkside. Honestly, with so much chaos in this region, every first-round game should be on upset watch. Parkside has a very good defense, the GLIAC leaders in the category as a matter of fact, and could present a challenge for an UMSL team that only scores 75.3 points per game.
Team to beat: Nova Southeastern. This is the second year in a row that the Sharks enter the tournament undefeated. The numbers they are putting up offensively have been relentless since the opening tip, eager to avenge last year's quarterfinals defeat. Every year we hope for that Sharks' offense against a Bearcats' defense in a title game. Is this the year we see it?
Team to watch: West Alabama. The Tigers are scorching hot, winners of their last 14 of 15 games, which includes wins over UAH, West Georgia and Lee, all of which are in this part of the bracket. The conference championship game victory was the first GSC tourney title since 1983, so paired with that winning streak, this team is fired up.
Most likely upset: West Georgia over Lee. The Wolves are 0-2 against the Flames this year, and as I've said in the past, beating a team three times is not always the easiest task.
South Central Region
Team to beat: West Texas A&M. The Buffs tested themselves early and didn't fare well in the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic nor the Holiday Hoops Classic against teams that are now in the DII tournament. Instead of collapsing, they learned from the losses and have been playing West Texas A&M basketball. Let's not forget how many times this team has made the DII Elite Eight in recent years.
Team to watch: Fort Lewis. Akuel Kot has been a scoring machine from opening tip and Fort Lewis has an impressive resume to its name. Coming from one of the toughest conferences this year, the Skyhawks have beaten three of the teams in this part of the bracket, downing both Black Hills State and Colorado School of Mines in the RMAC tourney. This team is firing on all cylinders.
Most likely upset: Colorado Mesa over Angelo State. The Mavericks have also beaten three teams in this part of the bracket, and while Angelo State will be no walk in the park, Blaise Threatt is a special player that can make special things happen in March.
Team to beat: Augusta. Look, this team is very top-heavy with top-10 teams in the top three spots. But Augusta has a 26-5 record against the 15th-toughest schedule in DII, are scorching hot right now, and have an absolute menace in the paint in player-of-the-year contender Tyshaun Crawford. This team will be tough to stop.
Team to watch: Lincoln Memorial. This offense is too good, scoring 88.5 points per game, which is a top-10 spot in DII. The Railsplitters have a depth of scoring talent and if you can't slow down their attack, they are off to the races and tough to catch. A Railsplitter/Jaguar showdown with that offense and Crawford inside will be very intriguing.
Most likely upset: I picked Catawba over USC Aiken in my bracket but watch out for North Georgia. The Nighthawks are cruising into their first-ever tournament and UNC Pembroke has looked a bit off down the stretch.
Team to beat: Point Loma. I've been higher than most on the Sea Lions since the preseason, and here we are, the No. 1 seed and winners of 23 in a row. This team is as, if not more, dominant than the 2019 national runners-up squad and have a strong "Big Three" headed by player-of-the-year candidate Kaden Anderson. This team is flat-out good.
Team to watch: Cal State San Bernardino. Speaking of flat-out good, have you met the Coyotes? The conversation of most important players in DII men's basketball isn't complete without the Yotes' Brandon Knapper and he's been the driving force behind the Yotes' hot streak, entering the tournament on a 12-game winning streak.
Most likely upset: Cal State San Marcos over Azusa Pacific. Honestly, these are two evenly matched teams and I'm not sure there are any upsets in this part of the bracket. The Cougars had the CCAA's best defense, so this time of year, that's huge.
The bracket, filled
Remember, when the regional champs make it to the DII Men's Elite Eight, the eight teams are given a national seed for the final mini-tournament. I went as far as predicting what I think the DII Men's Elite Eight seeds will look like and how they play out. If you're curious of my picks, take a look below.