Feb. 18—Like many things these days, the NCAA Division II men's and women's basketball tournaments will look quite a bit different this year.
Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the far-reaching problems it's caused, the Division II management and president councils announced this week a number of one-season changes to their postseason format.
The bracket size has now been reduced by 25%, cutting participants from the usual 64 teams down to 48. Instead of eight teams advancing in each region, now there will only be six. And, with some conferences postponing play or not participating at all this year, even the regions have been reworked to prevent an unbalanced field.
So, what does that mean for Kentucky Wesleyan?
The Panthers and the Great Midwest Athletic Conference will now be grouped into the Atlantic region instead of the Midwest, pitting them against teams from the Mountain East Conference, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Participants in the Midwest will still include the Great Lakes Valley Conference and the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Also, instead of numbered regional rankings, teams will be deemed "under consideration" until the final bracket is released.
The KWC men, who entered the week at 9-4 before Tuesday's setback at No. 23 Findlay, are included in the first Atlantic regional rankings alongside fellow G-MAC members No. 11 Hillsdale (15-1) and Findlay (13-4).
Other teams under consideration include sixth-ranked Mercyhurst (9-0) of the PSAC and No. 20 Charleston (10-2), No. 22 West Liberty (9-3), Fairmount State (8-2) and Glenville State (7-2), all from the MEC.
The Wesleyan women (13-4) are also under consideration in the first regional rankings, joined by league foes No. 24 Cedarville (17-3), Ohio Dominican (12-5) and Walsh (11-4).
The other four teams included are No. 3 Charleston (12-0), No. 18 Glenville State (8-1) and Notre Dame College (10-2) of the MEC, along with No. 22 Gannon (9-1) of the PSAC.
Surprisingly, these groupings aren't as wildly different as they may initially appear.
Of course, these are mostly programs that Wesleyan — both men and women — are unfamiliar with. However, even with several ranked squads included in the Atlantic region on both sides, the Midwest remains littered with ranked teams, as well.
The biggest advantage the Panthers can gain from being moved into a different region is simple: The spots available. Instead of competing against 38 other teams for six bids, the Atlantic will only force them to compete against 28 other squads.
Is it an easier path? I wouldn't necessarily say that for either team, only that it's a less-populated path. When it comes to the postseason, nothing is "easy."
If the Wesleyan men, rated the third-best team in the G-MAC point-rating-system rankings, continue to take care of business, they'll find themselves competing in the regional at West Liberty (W.Va.) in mid-March. The Elite Eight will be held later at the Ford Center in Evansville.
Likewise, the Wesleyan women, ranked second in the G-MAC, have a clear shot at reaching the regional. They'd have to travel to Ohio Dominican in Columbus, Ohio, for both the regional competition and the Elite Eight.
Either way, the next two weeks are crucial to KWC's hopes. Both the men and women have four games remaining on their respective schedules before the G-MAC tournament is set to begin. Neither squad can afford much of a setback moving forward, with such a thin margin for error.
However, now the Panthers know the course ahead — and it's certainly within reach.