Earlier this week, the NCAA released its first Regional ranking for men’s basketball, with King checking in at #3 in the Southeast Region. This poll had been anticipated for several weeks, and it was great to see our coaches and student athletes rewarded for a great season to date with a high ranking.
When it comes to rankings, the majority of coaches will tell you that it’s not something on which they place a great deal of emphasis. And, they typically instruct their players to say the same, thing (at least publicly), and cringe when a player speaks to the media about rankings. In recent years, the Bowl Championship Series has changed this slightly in football, as the BCS rankings have a more direct impact on who plays in the BCS games, and gets the resulting multi-million dollar payouts. However, few coaches will spend much time, at least publicly, speaking about rankings.
In Division I college basketball, rankings do not matter much in mid-February. If you’re in the Top 25, you’re pretty much guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance, it just comes down to a matter of seeding. And frankly, the Selection Committee looks at criteria that voters in the polls do not, and place higher emphasis on different criteria. Thus, the result is in Division I basketball, rankings are of little importance when it comes to the post-season.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches releases a Division II Top 25 weekly poll throughout the season, but like the Division I poll, it means little with regards to the post-season. Sure, it was great when King broke in at #22 earlier this year – it was a great reward for our student athletes and great recognition for our program – but that poll has little or no impact on a possible berth to the Division II NCAA Tournament.
Contrary to Division I basketball, however, the official NCAA Division II Regional Rankings, which are only released the last 3 weeks of the regular season, are very significant when it comes to NCAA post-season berths.
NCAA Division II is divided into eight geographic regions, and when it comes time to pick the 64 teams for Division II’s version of the Big Dance, eight teams from each region will earn a bid. Conference Champions will get an automatic bid, and the at-large bids will come directly from the regional rankings, in order of rankings.
King competes in the Southeast Region, which includes teams from the Peach Belt, South Atlantic Conference, and Conference Carolinas. The winners of the post-season tournament in each of those leagues will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the next 5 highest ranked teams in the final rankings (Selection Sunday) receive at-large bids to the Big Dance.
So, unlike the Division I level, the rankings in Division II directly impact the chances for teams to make the NCAA Tournament. The difference in a #8 or #9 ranking would mean the difference in being at home or at the Big Dance, and as a result, coaches and student athletes pay very close attention to the NCAA Regional Rankings, and when King earned a #3 ranking in the first Regional Rankings of the year, it meant something more than just a nice honor. We obviously need to keep taking care of things on the court, but it puts us in a good position going forward.
All of the above is true not only in basketball, but in all NCAA sports. While various coaches associations may have their own national Top 25 polls, the Regional Rankings are the ones that matter when it comes to the post season.