Now officially past the halfway point, the playoff field begins to take shape.
And inside of each of the remaining four weeks of the regular season, there are always games that shape the landscape of how the field is put together. And while the system has a way of making every game count, some hold a little bit more weight than others.
Just 60 teams remain undefeated and a large majority of that group are heading toward high seeds in their respective classes, there are still multiple games that feature head-to-head show downs between undefeated teams.
The six showdowns are:
• Hersey vs. Mount Prospect
• Beardstown vs. Camp Point Central
• Cambridge-Ridgewood vs. Kewanee Wethersfield
• Clifton Central vs. Watseka
• Greenville vs. Pana
• Mount Zion vs. Taylorville
Those games should help further thin the candidates at the top of the field, but the race to secure a spot in the 256 team field is also starting to feel a squeeze. So much so that there's an opportunity for a four-win team to find a way to advance into the field.
Based on the raw numbers, there's almost no way that any of the 60 teams that already have five victories won't make the playoff field. (Technically, you are not guaranteed a playoff spot until you reach the six victory plateau). But with the relatively low number of teams expected to reach five victories or more, teams already at five victories are in amazing shape.
Although the list of schools that is undefeated at this point is low, the list of schools with just one loss stands at a relatively high number of 95. Combining those two groups puts you at 155 schools in very good shape, and although the four win teams aren't guaranteed anything at this point, only a small handful of those teams might have trouble acquiring at the very least one win in their remaining four games.
The group of teams that sits above the .500 mark expands the list of teams to 254, just short of the number required to fill the field. And while that would seem to imply that there's enough teams above the even water mark to basically fill the field. There's more than a few teams at 3-2 that might have trouble breaking even over their last four games with rigorous schedules still remaining in their last four contests.
The 2-3 group is also massive, with 116 teams in the group. Those teams need to go a minimum of 3-1 to get into the playoff conversation and there's an impressive list of teams that really need to push to the finish line.
Teams such as Waubonsie Valley, St. Rita, Dakota, Johnsburg, Joliet Catholic, Bishop McNamara, Stevenson, Naperville Central, Oak Park-River Forest, Plainfield South and Rock Island Alleman need to finish strong. Most of the schedules of these teams make that look like a possibility.
But those teams and others do have the advantage of likely not having to worry all that much about whether or not they've amassed enough playoff points to earn an at large bid as a five-win team. Early returns indicate that nearly every five win team will secure a spot in the postseason field and the possibility remains strong that a few four win teams might have a chance of getting spots as well.
Watching how the teams fare that are currently hovering just above the .500 mark or just below this week will determine how likely it is that sub-.500 teams have a chance of making the 256-team field. Week 5 was particularly crippling for the teams that resided in that area, another week or two where the teams near the back of the potential field struggle to get critical victories to help them to the five-win group and the gates could open for more five win teams.
A ton of playoff points are going to be required in order for a four-win team to get into the playoffs but there are a number of candidates that might find themselves in that situation with more than realistic chances of finding field positions due to the quality of schedule played. Several teams that may find themselves in that situation already have amassed 30 or more playoff points in just five weeks of the season.
80 teams, currently with records of 1-4, have painted themselves into the proverbial corner, needing to win each of their remaining games. Only three teams in that group, Joliet West, Staunton and Lawrenceville have remaining schedules with four teams with records below .500.