Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thoughts on the Upcoming MIAA-CCIW Challenge

I actually never know if this is officially referred to as a “classic” or a “challenge”. It has flipped-flopped over the years and has always depended on who’s schedule page you happened to be viewing at the moment. This season, in fact, none of the schools’ online schedule pages call it anything at all, except Wheaton, who simply calls it “CCIW Challenge”.

No one cares? No one cares. Moving on.

Why this is fun

The MIAA-CCIW Challenge isn’t fun in the same way the Big Ten-ACC Challenge* is fun – the latter being one of the best events in sports, in my opinion – but it still serves as a measuring stick (of sorts) that is so frequently missing from Calvin’s non-conference schedule. Sure the GRSHOF games on Thanksgiving weekend are always that, but it’s more difficult to compare to NAIA schools who start their schedule in late October and often have several more games under their belts.

*I’ve often wondered/fantasied about a true MIAA-CCIW challenge which would match up the eight CCIW schools with the eight MIAA schools in the same manner as the Big Ten and ACC do, but the fact of the matter is the MIAA would get destroyed. I think a Calvin or Hope could match up with a top-two CCIW school frequently enough to make that part fun, but the middle and bottom of the CCIW would feast on the middle and bottom of the MIAA. There’s just so much more conference depth over there. The hope most years would be for two or three MIAA wins.

But it’s fun because it’s back to back games against quality Division III programs who also share quite a bit in the way of institutional mindset. Carthage rarely forays into the top tier of the division, but they’ve been a Massey Top-1,000 team (all divisions, including NAIA, which generally equates to the top quarter or third of D3) in every year of his database (going back to 2003).

And it’s fun because of the back-to-back games which allow for direct comparison with a conference rival.

Why this is not fun

This is not fun because every year this weekend carries the weight of potential at-large tournament selection. “Signature wins” aren’t really a thing in the Division III selection process but “head-to-head”, “common opponents”, and “results versus regionally ranked opponents” are, and they often come into play when Wheaton and Carthage is concerned.

It’s also not fun because Calvin hasn’t had as much success the last few years as fans would like. Last year’s 27-point drubbing of Wheaton was a high point, but the loss the night before to Carthage was a result that shouldn’t have happened.

And the results have been especially poor on the other side of the lake. According to the Massey database, Calvin hasn’t beaten either Carthage or Wheaton on Lake Michigan’s western shore since the 2004-05 season when they beat Carthage in the Challenge and Wheaton in the NCAA Tournament (after losing to them in the challenge).

I don’t like to think about that.

About this year

Wheaton comes into play on Friday with a 4-2 record. The (2-point) loss to Defiance is a bit of a surprise, but the Yellow Jackets appear to be of reasonable quality themselves, and they owned the home court advantage for that game. The other loss was by four points at home to (now) #4 Washington U. That’s not a bad result at all.

On the positive side of the ledger they turned in an 11-point victory at #17 Chicago on Wednesday. Wheaton isn’t currently ranked in the current week’s Top-25 (they’re in the Others Receiving Votes category), but perhaps they would be if we were able to call for a re-rank after Wednesday.

Wheaton is a legitimate threat to go 2-0 this weekend. My personal KenPom-like efficiency ratings – which, to be clear, should be taken with a large small sample size caveat – call for likely scores of:

Wheaton 84, Calvin 79 (64% chance of a Wheaton victory)
Wheaton 88, Hope 74 (87% chance of a Wheaton victory)

The Massey Ratings call for a 73-69 win over Calvin and a 75-70 win over Hope (63% and 67% Wheaton win probabilities for those games respectively).

Carthage is having a rougher go this season; they’re 3-3 but have maybe only one positive result. They got hammered by 35 against Washington U. on a neutral site and suffered double-digit losses to St. Francis (NAIA) and UW-LaCrosse. Another negative result is also their one-point overtime win over UC-Santa Cruz (who won four games last season).

The solid-looking result is a 9-point win over a decent-to-good UW-Platteville squad.

My efficiency ratings call for scores of:

Hope 79, Carthage 78 (58% chance of a Hope win)
Calvin 83, Carthage 74 (83% chance of a Calvin win)

The Massey Ratings call for a 73-71 loss to Hope and a 72-69 loss to Calvin (44% and 39% Carthage win probabilities respectively.

Why I seemingly wrote that last section from the CCIW perspective

I have no clue.

What we want to see this weekend

Two wins, obviously.

More specifically: a win over Carthage almost feels like a must if there are any hopes of a Pool C (at large) bid for the tournament. A win over Wheaton isn’t as much of a must, but you’d at least like to see Calvin stay competitive. A double-digit loss would be disheartening.

2-0: Ecstatic
1-1: Probably expected, just hang with Wheaton
0-2: Soul is crushed

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