by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
The second NCAA regional rankings were released on Tuesday which of course means it's time for us to take our second stab at projecting the Men's NCAA Tournament field (were the season to end today) based on the published process the NCAA National Committee should be using to select and seed the NCAA tournament.
|Amherst made a four spot jump in this week's East Region rankings, but was it enough to get Amherst into the field?
Photo: Larry Radloff for d3photography.com
All was calm out West in this week's rankings though the East Region saw plenty of movement, some of which serve as exemplary illustrations of the at-times frustrating nature of this process and we're going to be sure to explain why.
Will this week's ultimate bracket differ from that of a week ago? Well, that's why we do the exercise, but here's a spoiler: with three new Pool A teams in the picture and a scrambled up set of East rankings...it most certainly is going to.
And the results aren't going to look good. For now. Qh6+!!
A reminder, as we wish to make it very clear: our goal, and our 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.
- 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 21
|EAST REGION||WEST REGION|
|1. Norwich||1. St. Norbert|
|2. Oswego State
||2. UW-Stevens Point
|4. Hobart||4. Augsburg|
|5. Hamilton||5. UW-Eau Claire|
|10. SUNY Geneseo
Analysis: As always we try not to spend too much time on these as what's ultimately important to us is what these are and not why they are. They periodically help illustrate a component of the process that seems counterintuitive, and this week serves up a fine example.
Endicott was ranked second in the East last week and since then has done nothing but trash three league rivals by a combined score of 21-2. Not bad. However, those three games lowered the Gulls' SOS from .538 to .525. Not overly helpful if you're from Endicott. Then throw in the fact that RNK is now being taken into account and Endicott's 0-0-1 RNK doesn't do much to help it. Not so much as it's poor, but rather simply because it's such a small sample.
So what's our point here? Easy. Endicott is certainly just as good of a team now as it was seven days ago and by that reasoning there is no reason to believe it should have fallen behind Oswego State in this week's rankings if last week's determination was that it was one spot better. However, the sort of subjective judgement I just made isn't what governs this process. The numbers do. Which means win, lose or draw, there are times where the outcome of a game might not even be the aspect that most affects the selection process. In this instance, it's clear the ding Endicott took to its SOS is proving more significant than the fact it went 3-0 last week.
A blight on the process and not the committee to be sure, and we've seen it before and we'll see it again, but if that isn't frustrating I don't know what is.
- 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 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: The outcome here is the same as last week despite the fact Hobart's numbers shifted slightly after its two wins over Elmira. The Statesmen closed the WIN gap but still trail, while their SOS took a minor hit and now sits just one thousandth of a point ahead. Stevens Point claimed this bid a week ago and to give it to Hobart this time we'd have to give it the entire comparison based on a .001 advantage in SOS. It's not happening.
For now. Plenty here can and will change by the end of the year.
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: Hobart, Amherst, Babson, Utica
West: St. Norbert, UW-Eau Claire, Augsburg
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: Three new teams, Amherst, Utica and Augsburg, enter the mix this week and let's just say we're glad this isn't Selection Sunday as this is a far tighter group than last week. As the conference playoffs are going to end up doing most of the work here for us, for now we're going to keep it simple, stupid.
Step one, as always, is to see if there's any team or teams we can peel right off the board and move directly into the field, and same as last week we think there are two we can take immediately. We again find it inconceivable that St. Norbert doesn't get in here. The Green Knights remain a number one regional seed and bring the best WIN and RNK to the table. Their SOS remains far from stellar but it's actually better than it was a week ago and will continue to improve. Bottom line is that we will continue to find it impossible that a sitting regional number one stays home.
Hobart is also easy to move in here, for a couple reasons: it's the highest-ranked East team left and has numbers that clearly beat out Augsburg and UW-Eau Claire. But what about the fact the Statesmen are 0-2 against Utica this year? Doesn't matter. Hobart is four spots higher in this week's East rankings. The committee has spoken and the Statesmen are in.
Two down, two to go.
Can we rule anybody out? Yes. Utica and UW-Eau Claire. Utica by virtue of it's regional rank as there are still two East teams ahead of it and only two open spots to fill, and Eau Claire as it simply doesn't have the numbers to stack up. The 0-5 RNK is simply too much to overcome.
That leaves Amherst, Babson and Augsburg. Augsburg getting in here would be an interesting novelty as it would create a 7-5 split, which is something we've certainly never dealt with before, but do the Auggies have a chance in this comparison? Let's take another look, and this is the full comparison as Augsburg has no H2H or COP comparisons with either:
Augsburg is certainly an interesting case here as it has the best WIN and a favorable RNK. However, it has the worst SOS of any ranked team and it's so low it brings us back to a rule that has held for nealy 20 years: no team with a SOS under .500 has gotten an at-large bid. To bolster our point here we'd explain the Castleton/UW-Superior shocker of 2011 but don't want to bore you. Long story short, if we're stuck with something like this on Selection Sunday we'll get dirty with it, but even then this is one of those situations where at some point we'd have to make an educated guess at how the committee is valuing things. In those cases, it's almost always proven a winning move to double down on SOS, and Augsburg's is just too low. Amherst and Babson are in.
The Pool C bids are awarded to: St. Norbert, Hobart, Amherst, 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
We again have ourselves an 8-4 split, which presents the increasingly familiar question that is probably becoming second nature to many by now: 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?
We continue to think this is a pretty balanced field numerically which means we are again going to choose the middle road here as we find it the most equitable thing to do. That means one West Region quarterfinal and Adrian-Hobart-Oswego together in a quarterfinal. In this instance Adrian, by virtue of its higher regional seed, would host Hobart in a first round game with the winner traveling to Oswego State for a quarterfinal.
From there, we simply drop the remaining East teams in by seeds and we're done.
Our bracket is:
4W St. Thomas @ 2W UW-Stevens Point
|Click to view full-size.|
4E Hobart @ 3W Adrian
8E Plymouth State @ 5E Hamilton
7E Babson @ 6E Amherst
4W St. Thomas/2W UW-Stevens Point @ 1W St. Norbert
4E Hobart/3W Adrian @ 2E Oswego State
8E Plymouth State/5E Hamilton @ 3E Endicott
7E Amherst/6E Babson @ 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, but unlike last week we are not going to set it up for possible East-West semifinals. Why? Because we believe Norwich to be the top-seeded team in the field which means it gets lined up with the lowest-seeded quarterfinal, which is Endicott's. Or does it?
This is a tough call. Doing this would put regional seeds of 1,2,2,3,4,4 on one side of the bracket and 1,3,5,6,7,8 on the other, which is rather unbalanced. True to form there is nothing in the manual that addresses this, though we know the tournament is seeded nationally in some fashion. Or at least has been in the past.
Well, this ambiguity means it's on us to figure out what to do and we peg Oswego as the next-highest seed behind Norwich and St. Norbert which means we're going to line it up with the Green Knights, however ridiculous it makes this bracket look to us. We do not believe Norwich would get slated against the higher-seeded semifinal opponent in this scenario. This could go either way, really, but whatever. It's not worth sweating over at the moment, but consider this a situation in which we attempt to implement the process in its most stated form instead of using common-sense to trample on it, no matter how enjoyable that would be.
Joking aside, the real question here is which takes priority per the process: protecting the top overall seed in the semifinals or working to obtain maximum seed integrity across the board? We...think...it's the former. Make this instance number two tonight where we're glad this isn't Selection Sunday. But hey, perhaps we'll have more on this concept next week. Perhaps.
Potential Frozen Four pairings are:
St. Thomas/UW-Stevens Point/St. Norbert v. Hobart/Adrian/Oswego State
Plymouth State/Hamilton/Endicott v. Amherst/Babson/Norwich
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.