In the aftermath of Northwest men’s basketball’s 70-59 regional semifinal win over Southern Nazarene March 17, both teams’ head coaches addressed a need for change.
The Bearcats and the Crimson Storm, both ranked in the NABC NCAA Division II Top 25 in the season’s final week, faced off against each other in the Central Region semifinal, which would be the equivalent to the NCAA Division I round of 32.
Why did two teams, both ranked in the top 13 of Division II schools by the NABC, both touting pre-tournament win totals in the top six in the country, face off in the second round of the tournament?
It’s based entirely off geographic location, really, which could be argued as the most sensical way to go about it. But if in Division I the tournament is stacked to where No. 1 seeds get to play relatively bad teams in the first round, and mostly mediocre teams in the second round, why does Division II make it so much harder for good teams to succeed?
Of course, the tragedy here doesn’t take a great toll on Northwest, or at least it didn’t in the semifinals. Southern Nazarene was ranked No. 13 in the country in the regular season’s final week, and it had to match up with the Bearcats in the second round at Bearcat Arena.
That’d be like if Virginia Tech, a No. 4 seed in this year’s DI tourney, had to face No. 1 Duke in the round of 32 on Duke’s home floor.
In reality, Virginia’s route to the Sweet 16 is easier, going through either No. 5 Mississippi State or No. 12 Liberty — both much easier pills to swallow than the Blue Devils.
Southern Nazarene knows it was done an injustice. Coach Adam Bohac voiced his displeasure after the Crimson Storm’s close loss.
“We have 29 Division II wins and (Northwest) has (34) now?” Bohac said. “I’m not sure there’s another regional championship being played — or not very many — that have that many wins. I bet there’s 41 other coaches in the region that would vote for (change).”
It’s easy to see why Bohac said what he said — he’s the one that came out on the losing end of it. But Northwest coach Ben McCollum echoed a similar sentiment.
“I’ve said this for years,” McCollum said. “The NSIC, the GAC and the MIAA need to break it up. I’m not saying which regions are weak or not or whatever, but there are some weak regions, and it would be nice to say those teams (in the) first round… Then you get the right people at the Elite Eight.”
Northwest blew past Minnesota State-Mankato in the first round this season, but the Bearcats fell the Mavericks as the No. 1 seed a year ago. If Division II followed the Division I model, maybe Northwest beats a No. 16 seed in the first round, and maybe they make it last long enough in the tournament to get then-injured Justin Pitts back.
Maybe, if Division II’s big dance more closely resembled that of Division I, Northwest would have won another National Title last year.
Division II’s model is effective for travel budgets and shortened road trips. But that’s where the logic stops and the disservice to basketball starts.