by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
It still seems hard to believe we are already at this point of the season, but here we are. 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.
|A surprisingly strong resume landed Hobart at fifth in the East Region rankings, but will it be enough to land the Statesmen in this week's field?
Photo: HWS Athletics
We repeat: "...based on the published process..."
It's going to soon prove paramount.
As those of you who have followed this feature for years are aware, we seem to go through an annual process where we waver, hem and haw, waffle, whatever, over what exactly the purpose of this exercise should be. Is it to simply demonstrate the process? Is it to try to get inside the minds of the committee members and come up with the same bracket they do? Is it some amalgamation of both of those? All good and fair questions, really.
But the days of wavering are over as we have become ultimately convinced there is only one proper way to do this. Which is: to illustrate the Men's NCAA Tournament selection process while relying on nothing more than the NCAA Pre-Championship Manual, other published NCAA policy and protocol, and the published data and rankings, and to do it in extremely rigid fashion.
In fact, we've become so certain of this that we deem any other tack a fool's errand for a variety of reasons. To name a few, it convolutes things with inconsistent interpretations and applications, and at its very core level it forces one to ignore parts of the published process -- or add things to it that simply don't exist.
We'd even go so far as to say that if we, or anyone else out there, chooses to operate on that sort of faulty premise that they not only are wasting their time talking about pure fiction but are actually doing a disservice to anyone who truly wishes to understand the process.
So as we've already seen numerous discussions already go down that road today -- including a mention of a type of selection criteria that doesn't even exist -- it means it's time for us to embark on our 2018 journey, in which our goal and only goal is to stringently adhere to the selection process to yield a projected tournament field that isn't a product of our whims but rather of the process and the process alone. Whether that yields the same result as the committee...we don't really care.
Wahrheit gibt kurzen Bescheid, Luege macht viel Redens.
- The 2018 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, UCHC 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 on what it refers to as its Primary Criteria, which are as follows:
- 1/3 Opponents' Opponents' Winning Percentage (OOWP)
There are also four 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 13, 20 and 27. A fourth will be generated on Selection Sunday (March 4) and is slated to be released to the public on March 5.
- 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 in either of the final two regional rankings (February 27 & March 4)
NCAA Regional Rankings - February 13
|EAST REGION||WEST REGION|
|1. Oswego State||1. Adrian|
|2. Salve Regina||2. St. Norbert|
|3. U. of New England||3. UW-Stevens Point|
|4. Trinity||4. Marian|
|5. Hobart||5. Saint John's|
|6. SUNY Geneseo|
|8. Plymouth State|
|9. Buffalo State|
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 a few quick notes:
- We're a bit surprised that Oswego State topped Salve Regina for the top spot in the East, especially as all criterion seem to wash except one: SOS. There, Salve has the highest SOS of all teams on the NCAA data sheets and holds a .547 to .526 advantage on the Lakers
- Hobart checked in a bit higher than we maybe expected. Obviously the Statesmen are getting a boost from something to put them over teams with better records, but what is it and will it come into play in the Pool C picture?
- Everything in the West Region went exactly as expected
- Utica could be in some trouble
None of all that matters much now anyway, however, as plenty will change between now and Selection Sunday and it's the numbers as they stand on March 4 that are the meaningful ones. That said, these four things did jump out at us when the rankings were released so we figured they were worth a quick mention.
- 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 UCHC, WIAC, and independent teams are eligible here, this should be easy enough. No independent teams are anywhere near the mix so we'll compare the highest-ranked UCHC team, Utica, with the highest-ranked WIAC team, UW-Stevens Point:
|RNK||.5000 (1-1-1)||.600 (3-2-0)|
|COP||.0000 (0-1-0)||1.000 (2-0-0)|
Analysis: Pool B is going to be a quick one this week. It's a clean sweep for Stevens Point. As we go forward, it's all but assured the bid is going to come down to these two in every edition of Bracketology, so note that COP and RNK are all but locked in for both as there are no other ranked teams in either the UCHC or the WIAC. Utica needs help, which might have to come by way of the Pointers losing once in the WIAC semifinals as well as in the championship game. And even then it might not be enough as Utica's SOS is quite poor and will not have the chance to improve by a large amount.
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. This requires looking at the next-highest ranked teams in the regional rankings. However, there may come a time we take liberties here and include a few others. We will explain why if/when that time does indeed come:
East: University of New England, Hobart, SUNY Geneseo, Endicott
West: St. Norbert, Marian
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.
|Univ. of New England
Analysis: For years we've attempted to streamline this process under the belief that it's much simpler than it can be made out to be, and to that end we've looked at the group to see if there are any teams we can confidently move right into the field based solely on this.
So, that's what we'll do and...we actually think there are three.
St. Norbert has the best WIN, is tied for best SOS and has second-best RNK. The Green Knights are in. As is University of New England, which has second-best WIN, third-best RNK and a SOS that's a tad lower than St. Norbert and Hobart but right on par with the rest. Speaking of Hobart, now we see what it is the regional rankings liked about the Statesmen: SOS. They tie with St. Norbert for the best in the bunch, and when we work in RNK it only bolsters their case. It does have the lowest WIN, but taken in totality we believe it's clear Hobart is number three.
Which leaves is with one spot so now we'll do the same as usual: is there any team we can immediately discount? We believe we can, and it's Marian. The Sabres nip Geneseo in WIN and marginally beat Endicott in RNK, but when SOS is worked in it's simply hard to make a case for them over either.
So we're down to Geneseo and Endicott for the final spot...
In the early editions of Bracketology we tend to defer to the regional rankings here, and we're going to do it again. For now. The East slotted Geneseo one spot ahead of Endicott in this week's rankings, so Geneseo it is. We do note that this steps on some rather tenuous ground as the final regional rankings are simply advisory for the national committee and are liable to be changed on the selection call. It's happened more often, and more recently, than you might think. So when March 4 comes we'll take a closer look at a comparison like this but for now we'll defer to the regional rankings. They have to be good for something, right? Maybe?
The Pool C bids are awarded to: St. Norbert, University of New England, Hobart, SUNY Geneseo
Setting the Field
Thus, our full tournament field is:
|Pool B:||UW-Stevens Point|
|Pool C:||St. Norbert|
|Pool C:||University of New England|
|Pool C:||SUNY Geneseo|
Seeding the Field
Now the field must be seeded by region. Using this week's regional rankings, it looks something like this:
1E Oswego State
Setting the Bracket
Well hello, Adrian. Welcome back. And thanks yet again for creating the now-common dilemma of what to do with the Bulldogs. With that the case, bear with us here as after the way last year's bracket fell we want to go through this. Once.
There are two plausible options: they stay in the West Region which forces two West Region quarterfinals, or they play an East Region opponent by way of hosting the winner of Hobart and Geneseo, both of which are within the allowable 500-mile limit. But so is Oswego. Yes, but we're not setting the Bulldogs and Lakers up in a quarterfinal. There are a lot of reasons one might not pair these two up in the quarterfinals, but there's only one that actually matters and is even worth talking about, and it comes from the NCAA itself:
- The highest-ranked teams in each region will be given consideration as first-round and quarterfinal sites, assuming they meet the requirements of Bylaw 126.96.36.199.3.
Thus, we simply cannot put a No. 1 regional seed on the road in the quarters when we don't have to.
What about the 6E Geneseo/5E Hobart @ Adrian option, which would then allow us to have a nice symmetrical bracket containing four groups of three? After all, we've seen the Bulldogs face both Oswego State and Elmira in past quarterfinals. Well, let's look at the full body of the NCAA's language quoted above:
- The highest-ranked teams in each region will be given consideration as first-round and quarterfinal sites, assuming they meet the requirements of Bylaw 188.8.131.52.3. The committee will pair the teams regionally, based on geographic location of all participants and final seeding. Teams located more than 500 miles away from one another will only be paired if it is not possible to pair them with opponents located within 500 miles.
What this really says is three things:
- When it comes to hosting, the higher regional rank wins
- The committee will pair the teams regionally
- The 500-mile travel restriction will only be violated if there is no other option
And that's it. That's the entirety of the language that addresses how teams should be placed into the bracket. And it creates two problems with the Geneseo/Adrian/Hobart possibility.
The first: Within the same round it puts a No. 4 regionally ranked team, Saint John's, on the road for the first round while a No. 5 regionally-ranked team, Hobart, would host one. Seemingly minor as Saint John's is going on the road regardless, it nonetheless puts a higher ranked team on the road and a lower one at home in the same round, which stands in direct violation of (1) and thus cannot serve as a preferred option. Haggling? Perhaps, but the second reason is of more consequence anyway.
The second: "The committee will pair the teams regionally..." -- Simply put, this option does not pair teams regionally and is thus in direct violation of (2). And as "region" is a defined term by the NCAA, for better or worse it's hard to find a way around this, even if that was not the intent of the language. That's what it says, so that's what we're doing.
We said we were going to be rigid.
If this is the end-all-be-all, then we get the same bracket we did in 2017: two West Region quarterfinals and four East Region first round games. Now, this does maintain almost perfect seed integrity, it falls exactly in line with what we see in some other DIII sports that aren't hampered by the odd geography of hockey, and is actually a better option than many wish to admit. The only adjustment we need to make is to send 3W UW-Stevens Point to 1W Adrian instead of 4W Saint John's as the latter violates the 500-mile travel limit.
However, this bracket brought about a torrent of complaints last year and surely they would rain aplenty once again, though it should be noted that the language with which to work is all listed above. There is nothing published about "fairness," "byes to the quarterfinals," "symmetry," or any other such thing. If one doesn't like the way this shapes up they must then find a find a defensible interpretation of the limited language available that allows it. Can you find one? If so let us know. Really, that's not a challenge but a legitimate request. Let us know...
Now, that's a lot of words we won't bother with next week but as far as this week is concerned we did want to lay that out. The manual says what it says so that's what we did. Now, do we believe this is the way the committee would absolutely go at this point? Hell no, but it is indeed what we saw last year. Do we believe this is indeed the end-all-be-all of the process? More on that next week...
Our bracket is:
8E Norwich @ 1E Oswego State
|Click to view full-size.|
7E Plymouth State @ 2E Salve Regina
6E SUNY Geneseo @ 3E University of New England
5E Hobart @ 4E Trinity
4W Saint John's @ 2W St. Norbert
3W UW-Stevens Point @ 1W Adrian
Norwich/Oswego State v. Hobart/Trinity
Plymouth State/Salve Regina v. Geneseo/Univ. of New England
And as far as setting up the semifnals, we'll put 1W on same side of the bracket as 2E, and 1E on the same side as 2W, and that's that.
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, or new this year you can yell directly at me on Twitter @d3hky_webb. I will do by best to answer all questions and keep an open discussion going with anyone who would like to participate.