Well, they’re finally here, the 2019 NCAA tournaments! In this edition of McCaffrey’s Musings, we’ll look ahead to the first-round match-ups and select some winners, but first off, I have thoughts on this weekend’s conference tournaments.
Did anyone see the ECC champions being Molloy on the men’s half and NYIT on the women’s side? If you say yes, then (a) play the lottery and (b) you’re lying!! It was Lions and Bears, oh MY! I can’t be happier for Molloy’s Charles Marquardt. He took over the program in 1994 and this is his first NCAA tournament appearance. He and the Lions were robbed in 2017 by the National Committee but nobody can take the automatic bid away this season. While the NYIT women’s basketball squad isn’t yet fully healthy, it looked more like the team I picked to make the NCAAs in October. For their great runs, both clubs picked up the #8 seed in their respective regionals.
The CACC women’s side went exactly how I expected. The class of the league - Jefferson and Sciences - played the best game I’ve ever had the pleasure of announcing in a conference tournament. Those two teams combined to lose four games this year and three were to each other. I’ve long called Tom Shirley, the mastermind of 777 career wins, the most underrated coach in the region. He has the pieces this season for a deep NCAA run. I hope his win in the thrilling title game wasn’t the jackpot to a great season. The most popular victory was Dominican’s win over Bloomfield in the finale in the men’s bracket of the CACC. I’ve never seen a longer embrace then what Bloomfield coach Gerald Holmes gave to Charger coach Joe Clinton in the handshake line. I have often said, “Nothing good comes from the handshake line”, however, Holmes exudes class and that moment will forever be etched in my mind. For sixteen seasons Clinton has had his team on the verge of winning the CACC, but the dream finally became a reality. There wasn’t a more popular champion in the CACC than Clinton, whose Chargers makes their second-ever NCAA appearance.
The NE10 went according to the chalk on the women’s side with Le Moyne hosting Bentley. The Dolphins have dominated the Falcons in both meetings this year. It’s all about match-ups and Gina Castelli’s clan has been a nightmare for the region’s most decorated program historically. Hard to imagine it was Le Moyne’s second-ever home triumph over Bentley. All year long, I’ve been waiting for the Merrimack men’s basketball team to show how good it is and did the Warriors ever do that, winning at Le Moyne in the semifinals and defeating New Haven in the NE10 championship affair in West Haven. Merrimack is the hottest team in the regional but that doesn’t always translate to NCAA success.
If you think you were the only one who had trouble watching the selection show, you weren’t alone. I thought for a moment it was put into the witness relocation program. Eventually things were straightened out, but I know not before some of you just gave up and waited to read about it in the morning.
Here are the top eight as revealed yesterday! Let’s begin with the women’s bracket where first round games will be played in the Bobby Morgan Arena at Sciences on Friday.
#8 NYIT (23-8) @ #1 University of the Sciences (29-2), 5 pm
Sciences may have been upset in the CACC Final but the group sports a 22-game home win streak that should remain intact. The Devils haven’t lost two straight since January of 2017. The Bears will compete and this isn’t the typical 1 vs. 8, as NYIT, when fully healthy, is a very dangerous unit, however I like Sciences to advance.
#7 St. Anselm (19-9) vs. #2 Bentley (28-3), 2:30 pm
The Falcons are 3-0 in the season series and 76-13 all-time against St. Anselm. Would you believe that’s the second most wins any team has against Bentley, only bested by the 38 wins Stonehill has amassed? The good news is Corey Boilard’s group has scored more points in each meeting, but the bad news is so has Barbara Stevens’ Falcons. I like Bentley.
#6 Stonehill (19-9) vs. #3 Jefferson (29-2), Noon
The Rams are the real deal and Stonehill is out of gas. The best thing for the Skyhawks was losing early in the NE10 tourney so they could maybe catch some air and have a puncher’s chance. Trisha Brown will have some tricks up her sleeve but, much like Jefferson was last year, Stonehill is a year away. This is a virtual home game for the Rams and I like them to advance.
#5 St. Thomas Aquinas (26-4) vs. #4 Le Moyne (24-5), 7:30
The good news for the Dolphins is that there are no more teams left from the NE10 Southwest Division in the field. They are 8-5 against their division and 16-0 versus everyone else, including a regional-best 6-0 versus teams in the bracket. STAC is 2-1 against teams the field, defeating NYIT twice and dropping an early-season contest against Hawaii Pacific. Love the Dolphins here. They allowed a combined 73 points in their last two conference tourney games.
It’s time to switch gears to the men’s side, where soup was easier to mold than the bracket. Please note the regional will begin Saturday but as of press time the game times have not been released.
#8 Molloy (21-9) @ #1 St. Anselm (22-5)
The upstart Lions are one of two feel-good stories coming out of the conference tournaments but this is a really tough ask. The last time St. Anselm fell at home to a squad not in the NE10 was December 28, 2007 versus Mercy. The Hawks will hold serve at home.
#7 Dominican (23-7) vs. #2 Merrimack (22-9)
In our preseason podcast, I picked Merrimack to hoist the regional trophy. The Warriors have great guards. Merrimack is rolling right now and in shape to be the team to win it all. Joe Gallo has never lost a 1st round game (2-0). So, I’m going with the Chargers. There is something special about the group and if they take the defensive mindset they had over the weekend to Manchester they have a good shot at an upset. These two teams played last year in North Andover with Dominican winning by 15. The only thing that worries me about the Chargers is the layoff.
#6 St. Thomas Aquinas (23-6) vs. #3 Le Moyne (18-9)
This is a contest I can’t wait for, as Tobin Anderson’s young Spartans get Pat Beilein’s poised Dolphins. For whatever reason, Le Moyne has had success at Stoutenburgh Gymnasium, having never lost there under Beilein (2-0). Last season the Spartans handed the Dolphins an L in the toll booth but this year I expect Le Moyne to advance in a battle of the last two regional champions.
#5 Daemen (24-5) vs. #4 New Haven (20-9)
The Wildcats went from having a shot to host the regional to dropping to a 5-seed. I have no problem with that ranking, considering the loss in the ECC tournament to the Purple Knights in Bridgeport. New Haven could have easily been a 2-seed if had the Chargers defeated Merrimack in the NE10 final but were also unlucky when they dropped to four. It means both of these teams will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and the result should be a must-see game. I’m picking Daemen for no reason in particular.
So there you have it, my picks for 2019. I should have probably quit after the perfect bracket on each side of the regional in 2018 but it gives my loyal readers something to e-mail me about if I’m wrong!
I have to give credit to both committees for nailing the seedings. The men’s committee, led by Ted Hotaling, had the much tougher job. One can make cases for a lot of teams in a lot of places, but my numbers came out EXACTLY like the committee’s. One thing was clear: the LIU Post factor hurt both STAC and Daemen’s SOS and RPI and likely cost them a spot or two in the seedings, The reality is the best teams were given at-large bids and the best team will cut down the net.
As far as the women’s pairings go, I’m glad that the group of six charged with putting the bracket together on the East Regional committee did the right thing and went against the decisions they had made earlier during the three-week ranking period. In doing so they admitted they were wrong. It takes a lot of guts to do that and as a result they deserve all the credit in the world.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the great people at Caldwell University for their hospitality this weekend. Everyone in the region is, at best, in second place when it comes to the event that longtime Cougar Athletic Director Mark Corino puts together. Between the food and the precision of the festivities, there isn’t a hair out of place. Caldwell is the gold-standard of how to put on a tournament.