Bracketology, NAIA style

March 7, 2011 7:34 PM

After the next-to-last coaches poll of the year, released on Monday, Feb. 28, it looked like the Freed-Hardeman Lions would have to win the TranSouth Conference tournament in order to gain a bid to the national tournament.

Now, that may not necessarily be the case.

In that last poll, the Lions were ranked No. 35, leaving them a few spots short of being in the right position to get an at-large bid to Kansas City. But after an impressive 95-76 win at No. 9 Union (Tenn.) University in the conference semifinals, coupled with some losses by teams directly ahead of FHU in that poll, the Lions may still be able to sneak in an at-large bid even if they do not get the conference's automatic bid that goes to the tournament champion.

So what has to happen for FHU to get ranked high enough in the final poll on March 9 to get an at-large bid should the Lions lose on Tuesday in the conference finals?

The short answer is that the raters have to vote them there, which is cause for some concern given the national raters' respect, or lack thereof, of the TranSouth Conference in the last two seasons. The TSAC received only one bid to the tournament last year and, although it has two teams in the top 10 in the last poll, the conference has never had more than two teams in the top 25 since the second poll of the regular season on Dec. 13.

That said, though, the Lions have some things that could work in their favor.

Of the five teams directly in front of FHU in the last poll, three have been eliminated from their conference tournaments and one has been eliminated from the post-season altogether. Here is a look at the teams in FHU's general neighborhood and a little conjecture on what might happen:

* No. 30 Montana Western lost in its conference semifinals to No. 23 Montana Northern. Probably not a loss that would drop them out of the tournament picture.
* No. 31 John Brown (Ark.) College lost in its conference quarterfinals to Northwestern Oklahoma State, which may or may not be a condemning loss. More on that in a moment.
* No. 32 Texas College is out of the picture after the recent discovery that it had used ineligible players. That's definitely a condemning loss.
* No. 33 Westmont (Calif.) was bounced in the conference quarterfinals by Fresno Pacific (Calif.), one of four teams receiving one vote in the last poll. Probably enough to bounce Westmont out of the picture.
* No. 34 Park (Mo.) could cause some problems, though, after beating No. 16 Columbia (Mo.) in its conference semis. The Pirates face No. 21 McKendree (Ill.) in the championship game and a win would get them an auto berth. Otherwise they will likely be in the same boat as FHU, just sitting in the front of that boat while the Lions sit in the back.
* No. 36 Northwestern Oklahoma State, which was one spot behind the Lions, pulled off upsets of John Brown and No. 10 Oklahoma Baptist before falling in the SAC tournament finals to No. 14 Southern Nazarene (Okla.).  It's possible we could see JBU and NWOSU flip spots in the poll, which means FHU would not gain a spot from JBU's loss.  It's also posssible, though a bit more unlikely, that both teams stay in front of the Lions, and that's not a good thing.

So again, the real question is, how will the conference raters view the losses and the wins by the teams currently on the bubble?

The Lions certainly have a tournament-worthy resume with wins over No. 6 Martin Methodist, No. 9 Union, No. 21 McKendree and two wins over No. 14 Lee. Of those who have pulled upsets in their conference tournaments, FHU has the most impressive victory, a 19-point win on the road against the ninth-ranked team.  Also, of the teams on the bubble, FHU has at least two more wins over current top 25 teams (five) than any other team except Park, which has four.

It should be enough to get the Lions back to Kansas City for the second time in three years.

But will it be enough? Obviously, FHU can make all the conjecture go away by beating Martin Methodist on Tuesday night. If, however, it doesn't happen that way, we'll have to wait until March 9 to have a better idea.

And if nothing else at this point, the Lions are still in the conversation. Which is never a bad thing.


chase   3/7/2011 8:15:04 PM
Well written article... I couldn't agree more... good research.. ill be there tomorrow so I hope we can just win there!
Jewel Goodman Warfield   3/7/2011 10:24:12 PM
Thanks for the information.  Please keep us posted on FHU and certainly hope they make a bid in the national tournamnt.   1/23/2012 3:31:30 PM
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