The field is set! We have our 2021 NCAA Tournament participants, and you know the contributors and I couldn’t see the final field without making our own brackets. Over the next few days we’ll each finish and submit our brackets to you all for public praise/ridicule. Lets dive in to mine!
First Round Match Ups
Messiah vs Fontbonne
Of all the first-round matchups, this one has the most potential to raise some eyebrows. Messiah’s quite easily the breakout program of the year and they will be going up against a resurgent, and reloaded, Fontbonne Griffins squad.
While I think this game will be very close, I have a feeling the Griffins will win it. Fontbonne gets a lot of flack for playing in the MCVL, and Messiah will easily be the toughest opponent they have faced all year. But the Fontbonne squad, in terms of skill, is strong enough to beat Messiah, and they have the tools to do it. I have them winning 3-2 and advancing (even against my Jungle Rules draft pick Matt Knab and potential player of the year Mason Nissley).
Hiram vs Vassar
Vassar will most likely win this match 3-0. No shot against Hiram by any means, but Vassar is easily one of the top three best teams in the country and one of the top 2 best teams in the tournament. Hiram got a bad draw here against an under seeded Brewers squad.
Wentworth vs NJCU
The Leopards are the heavy money favorite in this matchup, and while NCJU might keep this game closer than people think (I would not be surprised if they took a set), I have the Leopards advancing.
Benedictine vs Endicott
Like Messiah vs Fontbonne, this matchup is one of the other first round pairings with the most potential for fireworks. The level of play between these two teams is incredibly even, and it could go either way. Lipton might be the best player on the floor when these teams clash, but Grygo and Legros are not that far behind. The closer this match is, the more I think it favors the Eagles, and I expect the match to be close. I have Benedictine winning in four as things stand.
Carthage vs Fontbonne
Unlike the opening round matchup in this bracket, I don’t see this one being as close. The Griffins will be competitive, but based on level of play Carthage has the edge. Fontbonne will struggle to stop Slivinski, and that is not even including Thomas and Bulthuis. Carthage should be able to win in straight sets.
Dominican vs Vassar
This I think will be one of the better matches of the tournament. Dominican is better than advertised and Vassar is one of the consensus best teams in the country. Andrew Kim has for the most part been unstoppable most of the year, and the emergence of Colin Jones alongside Gavin Van Beveren and Adam Gulick gives Coach Gary one of the most flexible rosters in the tournament.
The one thing I believe gives Dominican the advantage in this matchup is their notoriety at the net. The Stars are one of the best blocking teams in the country and Kougan is probably the best solo blocking opposite in the tournament. Andrew Kim was jumping over the majority of right-side blockers in the UVC (facts, I saw it), but he won’t be able to do that here. McGuire and Kougan can hang in the air with him and make life difficult. The Stars are just as balanced throughout the roster as Vassar, and I expect it to be a tight match. The money favorite is on Vassar to advance, but I have the Stars with the smallest of advantages going into it; Dominican 3-2.
Sourthern Virginia vs Wentworth
SVU was one of my favorite teams to watch play last year, and they honestly flew under my radar all year simply because of their CVC pool. They did the things I expected them to do in the few matches I saw in the regular season, but I did not think they would beat Rutgers or Juniata in their CVC tournament matches (and I was very wrong in this regard).
Nahuel Reccabbaren is still a premier pin in the landscape, and his running mates in Candland, Walker, Stapley, and Tagaloa are a familiar supporting cast who have more then asserted themselves into the national consciousness. I don’t think I can underestimate the Knights again this tournament, and even with Wentworths win over the juggernaut Springfield, I think SVU takes this match up 3-2.
Lancaster Bible vs Benedictine
This is my projected quarterfinal matchup in the bracket that I have the most uncertainty. But I think if Benedictine advances past Endicott, they will handle Lancaster Bible 3-0. Lancaster Bible is a solid squad, but their best wins of the year came against undermanned Kean and SVU. I think their tournament ends in their first match regardless of opponent, but I see Benedictine winning 3-0.
Carthage vs Dominican
This would be both Carthage’s biggest test of the year and a revenge match for the Firebirds. The last meeting between these two teams ended in a 5-set victory for Dominican last year, and Carthage has only gotten better since that defeat. The Stars blocking may be enough to get them past Vassar, but I do not think it’s enough to get them past Carthage. This match may be close, but I have Carthage winning 3-1.
Southern Virginia vs Benedictine
A semifinal matchup I do not think anyone would predict (outside of myself). As much as I like Benedictine, I think Southern Virginia ends the Eagles season in this semifinal bout. The Eagles tend to win their close matches in five set grinding affairs, when the opponents offenses fail and the Eagles are able to control the ball. They won’t be able to do that against SVU, and SVU has too many offensive options to contain for the Eagles to pull ahead within the transition phases of the game.
Carthage vs Southern Virginia
I’ve been high on Carthage most of the year, and I think this is the year they assert dominance and claim the NCAA Championship. Southern Virginia will make them work for it, it won’t be a blowout. But I see the Firebirds finishing their season undefeated as NCAA Champions with a 3-1 win over the ascendant Knights.