The first month of the 2018-19 NCDA season is off to a hot start. We have seen 19 different teams make their season debut over 6 different tournaments across the Michigan, Ohio, East Coast, and South regions. There were some early predictions on how some thought the season would play out, some of which are shaping up to follow through while others seem like nothing more than speculation. Additionally, the power structure of the league seems to be shifting in a way that maybe even veterans of the game could not have predicted. It is still early in the year and a lot can change, there are some interesting takeaways from this first month that should be discussed. Grades are listed at the bottom of the article.
The first thing I want to discuss is the separation of three particular teams from the competition in their respective regions, this being GVSU, Miami, and Towson. Each of these teams remain undefeated and are already in mid-season form early on.
GVSU has always been, and for the foreseeable future will be, in discussion for the national title. However, many believe this season’s team will be one of the strongest in recent memory. The team that won Nationals at BGSU for the 2015-16 season was made up of a majority of freshmen. Now that group has developed and carries not only talent but also experience to become one of the most distinguished classes in NCDA history. The Lakers made a strong impression in their opening tournament at MSU, picking up wins over MSU, CMU, and UK. For them, it appears business as usual, and at the moment it would be hard to justify many teams being competitive against this group.
Miami and Towson on the other hand are pleasant surprises early on. Towson has stormed out the gate to a 9-0 record, which frankly not many expected. Before the season started many had overlooked them to be the clear second fiddle in the East Coast to JMU, but a 6-1 victory over the Dukes was a clear message that Towson won’t settle for anything short of the top. They have beaten nearly every East Coast team thus far, save Stevenson, and done so in convincing fashion. Also, Jordan Watt looks like a man on the warpath to be MVP after (admittedly by mistake) being left out of any previews before the start of the season.
Rounding out this section, Miami is a team which many knew would be good this year, but I don’t think we knew how good they would actually become. After a dominating performance at their home tournament, I find it hard to believe any team in Ohio will catch them for the time being. Kent and BGSU who were the primary powerhouses in Ohio last season were defeated 5-2 and 5-1 respectively by the Redhawks. Tom Morand and Kevin Corotis have looked solid thus far, and are making good impressions for All-Ohio as well as All-American. With that, it is clear that the hierarchy is starting to change in Ohio, but time will tell us how drastic that change will be.
While the three teams listed above (GVSU, Towson & Miami) had strong starts to the season, distancing themselves from other competitors in their respective regions, there are a number of other highly skilled teams who are clearly still in contention.
Central Michigan had an impressive start to the year. The Chippewas entered the season with somewhat modest expectations, as they only returned a handful of players from their National Runner-Up 2017 team. Despite the high turnover, CMU has positioned themselves as early favorites to reach yet another Final Four. Austin Brege and Eric Nelson have led the way for CMU so far. Both would be high up on my All-American watchlist at the moment.
Saginaw Valley State is a tough team to read at this juncture. The Cardinals (like all the other Michigan schools) have only competed in one tournament so far this season. In that tourney, SVSU’s only stumble was a last second loss at the hand of CMU. Despite that loss, Saginaw has proven they are still going to be a force in the Michigan Region.
James Madison is another team that is a bit tough to read at this point in time. As mentioned above, they had a less than satisfying performance against Towson who has been the only true competition for them on the East Coast. That being said, they also blew away UMD and UVA at the same event, putting up 5 and 6 points, respectively. The early impression I got from watching that event is that this team is incredible at the right moments, but more practice time will help make them more consistent. Personally, I still see the Dukes as one of the top dogs (pun completely intended) and feel they will find a way to end up in the top three at a minimum. Their home tournament next weekend will certainly provide more perspective.
Unlike their football team, Nebraska was able to snag some early victories in the season, thanks to two wins over Wisconsin-Platteville at home. UWP is a team with a lot of experienced Seniors this season, but that didn’t stop the Cornhuskers from putting in a good showing. What stood out particularly about UNL was their “completeness” as a unit in all aspects of the game. Everyone was able to throw, catch, and block at a competent level, and their teamwork has improved even since Nationals 2018 last season.
Based solely off wins and losses, you would think Kentucky is in the midst of a nose dive as a program. That is the furthest thing from the truth. The 1-3 Wildcats happened to acquire those three losses at the hands of, Grand Valley State, Saginaw Valley State, and Central Michigan. UK was able to take down Michigan State on the Spartans’ home court, while coming a few outs away from pushing CMU to overtime. Overall, UK has been a very pleasant surprise. If this young team continues to schedule tough competition, they will progress at a rapid pace this season.
I think it’s safe to say that Michigan State is the team that is the least performing team compared to their expectations before the season started. It would be an overreaction to write off the Spartans just yet, however no wins in their opening tournament at home is concerning. Then again, they don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to home events (2 wins in the last 14 matches at home), so maybe it’s business as usual.
Akron entered the season with plenty of hype. The Zips have only played in one event so far, but they were unable to live up to the high expectations in that event. Make no mistake, this team is solid. In fact, their two losses (BGSU and Ohio) were each by just one point. In other words, Akron can certainly change the narrative surrounding their team right now if they can get over the hump against a few solid Ohio Region foes.
BGSU is another team that might not be quite what we thought entering the season. The Falcons are coming off a Final Four appearance, but obviously they have regressed a bit. BGSU’s 5-1 loss at the hands of Miami made it clear that they are no longer the top dog in their own region. Bowling Green certainly has some talented and experienced players, but they have their work cut out for them if they have any plans on repeating their 2017 successes.
Virginia is another team that entered the season with high expectations. Thus far they have fallen short. UVA’s loss to VCU this month proved they are still a middle of the pack East Coast team right now. The potential is there for this team to jump up the rankings the rest of the season.
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The Nittany Lions only have two games under their belt, and against arguably two of the stronger opponents in the league in Towson and Kent State. While they held their own against Kent, the same can’t be said for their performance versus Towson. Some more games will certainly give us a better picture of where they stand, but any time you lose as much talent as they lost it becomes hard to predict where the team is heading.
VCU made it to their first tournament last weekend where they played UMD, Towson, and UVA. There were a lot of questions in the off-season about this team and how they would be able to perform following the departure of some big name players. Some opinions were less than flattering, but the Rams demonstrated they are still able to be competitive. We still have to see how well this team travels though, as playing outside the East Coast the past two years was something that helped this team grow.
The Bobcats of Ohio University have started the year 2-1 after being left off of the pre-season power rankings and an unfortunate absence from Nationals 2018. Adam Hynes and Caleb Arnold are no longer with the team, but this group embodies the group mentality and knows how to work together. Their three games thus far have come from all areas of the spectrum in terms of rankings (#35 BSU, #18 Akron, #5 Kent) so some more play against opponents to the middle and upper echelon of the league will be their best move. Ohio burst on the scene in the 2015-16 season by playing 29 games in their first ever season, hopefully they don’t disappoint and continue to find the court as much as possible.
North Georgia took care of business at the lone event so far this fall. A couple blowout wins over Georgia Southern is unfortunately not a large enough sample size for us just yet to gauge this team. Still, it demonstrates their dominance over their in-state competition is ingrained in their team. Hopefully some more teams are able to visit the beautiful facility that is home to Nighthawks and give these guys some legitimate challenges.