by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
The first NCAA regional rankings were released on Tuesday which means it's once again time for D3hockey.com to project the Men's NCAA Tournament field based on the published process the NCAA National Committee should be using to select and seed the NCAA tournament.
|At the beginning of the season who would have predicted Endicott would check in at No. 2 in the debut East Rankings?
Photo: Endicott Athletics
This year, we hope we can be as illustrative as we were a year ago as our final projection on Selection Sunday matched the NCAA's bracket exactly. We were extremely happy with this, but not because we "predicted" it exactly since the purpose of this exercise is not to predict a bracket. Rather, it meant our interpretation of the process was identical to the committee's and as we aim to illustrate the process in the best and most fair way possible...it means we interpreted it correctly, which really is the ultimate goal. Hopefully we can deliver a repeat performance this time around.
A reminder, as we wish to make it very clear: our goal, and only goal, is to illustrate the process as it is published in the NCAA Men's Division III Ice Hockey Pre-Championship Manual. To do so we will implement the process based on known regional rankings and NCAA-generated statistics for the relevant teams, and we will do so to yield the bracket that we feel maximizes fairness and equity of the field while concurrently adhering to NCAA rules. To this end, we remind ourselves of a few governing principles that we consider to be paramount:
- Process, process, process. The published process is the only thing that matters. You might not like it and we might not like parts of it, but it is what it is. To worry about things outside of the process muddies the waters and tends to lead to more confusion amongst fans than it resolves. Learn more about the process here.
- It has been numerous years since the tournament selection yielded an outcome that was not easily explained by the tenets of the process itself. While some, including us, may have differed with the committee's decisions at times, they nonetheless have fallen completely within the framework of the process.
- To cross the boundary from interpretation and application to delve into the world of speculation does a disservice to everyone. There is enough of that swirling around out there this time of year and it is something we will not engage in. Our goal is to shed light on the process, not obfuscate it for the sake of our own egos.
With that said, time to embark on the most fun and hopefully enlightening exercise of the season.
In the immortal words of Al Bundy: "Let's Rock."
- The 2017 Men's Division III Ice Hockey Championship will consist of 12 teams.
- Seven conference playoff champions will receive automatic qualifying bids (Pool A) to the tournament. These conferences are the: CCC, MASCAC, MIAC, NCHA, NEHC, NESCAC & SUNYAC.
- One team from a conference that does not possess a Pool A bid will receive a Pool B bid. This will be awarded to an independent, ECAC West or WIAC team.
- Four teams that do not receive Pool A bids nor the Pool B bid will receive at-large (Pool C) bids into the tournament. Every team that did not receive a Pool A or Pool B bid is eligible for a Pool C bid.
For the purpose of Pool C selection, as well as team comparisons for regional ranking purposes and tournament seeding, the NCAA committee will rely mainly on what it refers to as its Primary Criteria, which are as follows:
- 1/3 Opponents' Opponents' Winning Percentage (OOWP)
There are also three Secondary Criterion the committees may look at if they are unable to come to a determination by using only the primary criteria, and they are as follows:
- The NCAA regional committees will release three editions of regional rankings prior to tournament selection, with the release dates being February 14, 21 and 28. A fourth will be generated on Selection Sunday (March 5) and is slated to be released to the public on March 6.
- The East Region rankings will contain ten teams, the West Region five.
- For the sake of RNK, the NCAA considers a team ranked only if it is ranked at the time of tournament selection (in the March 6 final rankings).
NCAA Regional Rankings - February 14
|EAST REGION||WEST REGION|
|1. Norwich||1. St. Norbert|
||2. UW-Stevens Point
|3. Oswego State
|4. Hobart||4. Augsburg|
|5. Babson||5. UW-Eau Claire|
|9. SUNY Geneseo
Analysis: We won't spend too much time here as for our purposes all we care about is what these are as opposed to why these are what they are, but one quick note:
1. Strength-of-schedule (SOS) appears to be pulling some significant weight in the East rankings, at least in some instances. As RNK was not considered by the committees in the generation of this set of rankings, SOS must be responsible for what we consider Babson's somewhat surprisingly high ranking, as well as the somewhat surprisingly low rankings of Hamilton and SUNY Geneseo. However, the relatively pedestrian SOS numbers of Norwich and Oswego State do not seem to be hurting either.
- Pool A
As Bracketology assumes this would be the tournament field were the season to end today, we will use the teams leading the seven Pool A eligible conferences as our automatic qualifiers. Thus, the seven Pool A bids go to:
- Pool B:
As only ECAC West, WIAC, and independent teams are eligible here, this should be easy enough. No independent teams are anywhere in the mix so we'll compare the highest-ranked ECAC West team, Hobart, with the highest-ranked WIAC team, UW-Stevens Point:
|RNK|| .5000 (2-2-1)
|| .6426 (4-2-1)
Analysis: Two years ago UW-Stevens Point edged Hobart for this bid but Hobart made it into the field anyway via the Pool C route. Last year we saw the opposite as Hobart landed this bid while UW-Stevens Point snagged a Pool C to get in anyway. And now we've got the same two teams duking it out again, so who's it going to be?
It's close, but it's fairly obvious -- for now, at least, as a lot could change for both of these teams between now and Selection Sunday. We see Stevens Point with advantages in WIN and RNK while Hobart's only edge is a very small one in SOS. Is this very small SOS advantage enough to swing the entire comparison in Hobart's direction? No, it is not.
The Pool B bid is awarded to: UW-Stevens Point
- Pool C:
We now must consider which teams will get at-large bids to the tournament. That requires looking at the highest ranked teams in the regional rankings that are not projected to win Pool A, and those are:
East: Endicott, Hobart, Babson, Hamilton
West: St. Norbert, UW-Eau Claire
Let's begin by constructing a table that shows each of these six teams' relative winning percentage (WIN), strength-of-schedule (SOS), and record against ranked teams (RNK). We'll eye things up and see if we can come to any obvious conclusions.
Analysis: Before going too crazy with analysis, do you see a potential problem here? We do. Namely, we've got four bids up for grabs and only two ranked West Region teams remaining as Adrian, Augsburg and UW-Stevens Point are already in the field. So what happens if we start handing out bids and end up with bids remaining but no West teams left? Well, that's not going to happen this time, but if it should at some point...well, we know the answer but we'll worry about that if/when we need to.
As always, we try to streamline this analysis by taking a quick look at the numbers to see if there's any team(s) we can confidently move directly into the tournament field. So are there any?
Well, we actually think there are four and we can wrap this up in a hurry, but let's start with just two. St. Norbert and Endicott are getting in.
St. Norbert is the top-ranked team in the West in this week's regional rankings, has the best WIN of the group and is perfect in RNK. Yes the Green Knights have the weakest SOS of this group, but in this instance we don't believe it matters as, simply put, the committee has spoken and the number one team in a region isn't going to sit at home. A note to keep an eye on for future weeks: St. Norbert holds the edge in a COP comparison with Hobart.
Endicott. Really? Endicott? You bet Endicott. The Gulls have the second-highest WIN, the second-highest SOS, and sure their RNK is a bit thin, but that tie came on the road at Norwich, which just happens to be the No. 1 team in the East Rankings. Trying to spin Endicott into a spot where it is not in the top four of this group is an impossible task for us, plus it has the highest regional rank of all teams not yet into the field. Welcome to your first NCAA tournament, Gulls.
Now, we've got four teams vying for two spots. Let's try our other shortcut and see if there is any team we can simply discount. There is, and it's UW-Eau Claire. Of the four remaining teams the Blugolds have just the third-best WIN and their 0-5 in RNK is a veritable anchor. The solid SOS isn't enough to save them.
And we're down to three Eastern teams for the final two bids: Hobart, Babson and Hamilton. Thankfully, the East committee has already done the work for us on this one. Hamilton is the lowest ranked of the three in this week's regional rankings so unfortunately for the Continentals, while they've got our favorite nickname in Division III (for real), their tremendous season comes to an end just short of the NCAAs.
The Pool C bids are awarded to: St. Norbert, Endicott, Hobart, Babson
Setting the Field
Thus, our full tournament field is:
|Pool B:||UW-Stevens Point
|Pool C:||St. Norbert|
Seeding the Field
Now the field must be seeded by region. Using this week's regional rankings (and a bit of guesswork on a tight comparison between Plymouth State and Nichols that could certainly be wrong), it would look something like this:
1W St. Norbert
Setting the Bracket
A few months ago we saw someone purport that a 12-team bracket would be "impossible" to manage, and we laughed. Why? Because it's an absurd contention for one, but more importantly because it's no harder to manage than an 11-team one is and we all managed to deal with that bit of asymmetry for years.
So we've got ourselves an 8-4 split, which presents the exact same question the 7-4 split of the past few years has. Namely, do we go with two West Region quarterfinals, two West Region first round games, or send Adrian east and roll with one quarterfinal in the West?
Considering the West's numbers aren't as dominant as they have been past few years but also are far from weak, we like the middle road here as we feel it maintaints the best seed integrity we can while adhering to NCAA travel restrictions. Most conveniently, Hobart and Oswego State are both within allowable travel range for Adrian, so what if we set up an Adrian-Hobart-Oswego quarterfinal triad? We like it, and so does the NCAA because this is exactly what it did with the actual bracket in 2015.
Going by regional rank, this slots Hobart at Adrian in the first round with the winner going to Oswego for a quarterfinal. The West quarterfinal thus becomes elementary as, once again going by regional rank, we get Augsburg at UW-Stevens Point in the first round with the winner going to St. Norbert for a quarterfinal.
From there, we simply drop the remaining East teams in by seeds and we're done.
Our bracket is:
4W Augsburg @ 2W UW-Stevens Point
|Click to view full-size.|
4E Hobart @ 3W Adrian
8E Nichols @ 5E Babson
7E Plymouth State @ 6E Williams
4W Augsburg/2W UW-Stevens Point @ 1W St. Norbert
8E Nichols/5E Babson @ 2E Endicott
4E Hobart/3W Adrian @ 3E Oswego State
7E Plymouth State/6E Williams @ 1E Norwich
As we have, in our opinion, maximized bracket integrity while adhering to travel limitations, the only question left is which teams should be lined up to face off in the semifinals? We're going to put the No. 1 regional seeds on opposite sides of the bracket and also set up the potential for East-West semifinals (which our regular readers will know we have a habit of doing). To do otherwise we'd have to guess at national seeds, and things are pretty tight so for now we're just going to use common sense and go with the E-W semifinals:
Augsburg/UW-Stevens Point/St. Norbert v. Nichols/Babson/Endicott
Hobart/Adrian/Oswego State v. Plymouth State/Williams/Norwich
Not the results you were hoping for? Have no fear as events over the course of the next few weeks will render this first edition of Bracketology useless, but as things stand now this is the NCAA tournament yielded by our best attempt to fairly and objectively apply the published NCAA tournament selection process.
Questions or comments you'd like further explanation on or you simply think we're nuts? No problem, we'd love to hear from you. Feel free to jump in with your own questions or ideas in the Bracketology Discussion over on the D3sports forums, comment below, or you can always yell at us on twitter @d3hky.