The Road to Placid: Men's Bracketology, Take I

by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com

The first public NCAA rankings were released on Tuesday which means it's that time once again 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 field.

 
Plattsburgh State's fourth-place standing in the debut East Region rankings came as a surprise to some.
Photo: Plattsburgh State Athletics

Those familiar with our exclusive Bracketology will recall that over the year's we've waffled back and forth when it comes to the objective here. Is it to attempt to project the actual tournament field or is it to illustrate the selection process in the clearest manner possible? Going forward it will be the latter, and we are going to be more rigid than ever when it comes to meeting that objective.

So from here on out 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-Championships 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.  To this end, we remind ourselves of a few operating principles from last season that we will again 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 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.

All that said, here we go again...

 

The Tournament

  • The 2016 Men's Division III Ice Hockey Championship will consist of 11 teams.
  • Seven conference playoff champions will receive automatic qualifying bids (Pool A) to the tournament. These conferences are the: ECAC Northeast, 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.
  • Three 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:

                     
  • Win-lost percentage against Division III opponents (WIN)
  • Division III head-to-head results (H2H)
  • Results versus common Division III opponents (COP)
  • Results versus ranked Division III teams as established by the rankings at the time of selection.  Conference postseason contests are included (RNK)
  • Division III strength of schedule (SOS)*

              Consisting of:
            -  2/3 Opponents' Average Winning Percentage (OWP)

            -  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:

 
  • Non-Division III won-lost percentage
  • Results versus common non-Division III opponents
  • Win-lost percentage during the last 25% of the season (L25)


Regional Rankings

  • The NCAA regional committees will release three editions of regional rankings prior to tournament selection, with the release dates being February 16, 23 and March 1. A fourth will be generated on Selection Sunday (March 6) but those are not released to the public.
  • 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 16

EAST REGION WEST REGION
1. Hobart 1. St. Norbert
2. Williams 2. Adrian
3. Trinity 3. UW-Stevens Point
4. Plattsburgh State 4. Marian
5. Buffalo State 5. UW-Eau Claire
6. Babson  
7. SUNY Geneseo  
8. UMass Boston  
9. Neumann  
10. Norwich  
10. Utica  

 
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 two quick notes:

1. We've already received a healthy dose of feedback about the East Region rankings. Be it one team is too high or another is too low, most of the reactive noise seems to be rolling in from the East. However, one look at the respective SOS numbers of teams in question and it becomes rather apparent that SOS is being given significant consideration in the East Rankings.

2. Why are there eleven teams in the East rankings when the NCAA Pre-Championships manual directly states there will be ten? We presume it's because there's a tie, which seems odd considering these are subjective rankings. We also presume it's things like this that unfortunately make people skeptical of the entire process.

 

Pool Selection


  • 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:

ECACNE: Nichols
MASCAC: Salem State
MIAC: Augsburg
NCHA: Adrian
NEHC: UMass Boston
NESCAC: Williams
SUNYAC Plattsburgh State

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 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:

  HOBART STEVENS POINT
WIN  .7920  .7800
SOS  .5390  .5200
RNK  .7222 (6-2-1)
 .2500 (1-4-1)
H2H  -  -
COP  -  -


Analysis:
This is a very similar looking comparison to the one we saw between these same two teams a year ago, though in this case...the numbers are flipped. Hobart clearly takes this comparison as it sweeps all three categories. Even if one were to call WIN a wash, which for all practical purposes it is, the Statesmen hold a solid edge in SOS and a commanding edge in RNK. The edge in RNK is in large part thanks to the East's 11th ranked team, Utica, though even without Utica in the mix this comparison still goes to Hobart in rather comfortable fashion.

Last season, Hobart lost this bid to Stevens Point but made the tournament field anyway via Pool C. Will the same hold for the Pointers this time around? We'll find out soon enough because...

The Pool B bid is awarded to: Hobart

 

  • 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: Trinity, Buffalo State, Babson

West: St. Norbert, UW-Stevens Point, 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.

  WIN SOS RNK
Trinity  .7380  .5420  .3750 (1-2-1)
Buffalo State  .6520  .5380  .5000 (3-3-1)
Babson  .7380  .5090  .6000 (3-2-0)
St. Norbert  .8700  .5160  .6429 (4-2-1)
UW-Stevens Point  .7800  .5200  .2500 (1-4-1)
Marian  .7170  .5430  .5000 (2-2-2)


Analysis:
As part of our ongoing efforts to streamline things in order to prove this process is nowhere near as convoluted as some make it out to be, we're going to implement a concept that has proved extremely successful in our women's bracketology over the past two years. Namely, we're going to take one look at this and see if there are any teams we can put into the tournament field immediately.

We see two that we're going to move straight into the field.

St. Norbert is currently the top-ranked team in the West Region, has the highest WIN, and the best RNK of the pack. The Green Knights have a somewhat middling SOS, but it's nowhere near enough to make a difference to us. They're 1W right now and are getting one of these bids.

Trinity checked in at third in the regional rankings, which means it's already ahead of Babson and Buffalo State in the eyes of the committee, and we think the Bantams top UW-Stevens Point here, thanks in large part to their advantage in SOS. Trinity is also in.

Which leaves one spot for Babson, Buffalo State, UW-Stevens Point and Marian. While we have seen teams emerge from lower spots in the regional rankings and land surprising tournament bids, we're going to hold off on getting overly creative as we still have three weeks to go and these rankings and numbers are going to change, perhaps significantly.

We know Buffalo State is ahead of Babson in the East Rankings, and we know Stevens Point is ahead of Marian in the West Rankings, so who wins out in a comparison between the Bengals and Pointers?

We think it's Stevens Point. The Pointers claim the edge in WIN and we think it's by a wide enough margin to override the Bengals edge in SOS. While the committee could certainly view this differently, we also don't like swinging a comparison solely on RNK as it's a criterion that implies it's actually better to lose to poor teams as opposed to good ones. Interestingly, the two actually have a common opponent this year in St. Norbert, where Buffalo State went 0-1-1 against the Green Knights while Stevens Point went 0-1. Not going to change our minds in either direction.

We think Stevens Point takes this but it's surprisingly tight and could certainly be intrepreted differently by others. We overvalued SOS last season and it ended up backfiring on us, so we just don't think the SOS difference here is enough. If Buffalo State had a monstrous SOS or Stevens Point's was low enough to be a liability we'd give the edge to the Bengals.

A few things to keep an eye on: Stevens Point's position is a tenous one and could be in peril. The Pointers must face UW-Eau Claire in next weekend's WIAC semifinals and are 0-2 against the Blugolds this season, while Marian is heavily favored to get two wins over Aurora this weekend, though it will lower the Sabres' SOS by a perhaps meaningful margin. We think the Pointers' margin for error is nearly zero at this point and a stumble could easily vault Marian or Eau Claire squarely into the picture.

Out East, Buffalo State faces Oswego State and Cortland State this weekend, while Babson wraps up its season against Skidmore. The Bengals and Beavers will be favored in all, but none are gimmes. Meanwhile Trinity has a league series with Wesleyan in which the Bantams will be heavily favored but will also take a SOS hit.

The numbers and contenders will change drastically over the next few weeks -- they always do, but for now...

The Pool C bids are awarded to: St. Norbert, Trinity and UW-Stevens Point

 

Setting the Field

Thus, our full tournament field is: 

ECACNE: Nichols
MASCAC: Salem State
MIAC: Augsburg
NCHA: Adrian
NEHC: UMass Boston
NESCAC: Williams
SUNYAC: Plattsburgh State
Pool B: Hobart
Pool C: St. Norbert
Pool C: Trinity
Pool C: UW-Stevens Point

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeding the Field

Now the field must be seeded by region. Using this week's regional rankings, it would look something like this:

1E Hobart
2E Williams
3E Trinity
4E Plattsburgh State
5E UMass Boston
6E Salem State
7E Nichols

1W St. Norbert
2W Adrian
3W UW-Stevens Point
4W Augsburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setting the Bracket

Well, the at-large selection went about as smoothly as possible, but get a load of this: for a change, setting the bracket is going to be completely straightforward and equitable.

Here's why:

We are once again presented with the "Adrian Problem." Due to travel limitations there are only three teams Adrian can play in the early rounds. They are Hobart, St. Norbert and Stevens Point.

An 2W Adrian/1E Hobart quarterfinal would set up West Region quarterfinal triad of Augsburg/Stevens Point @ St. Norbert, which is reasonable, but we really don't like putting 1E v 2W in a quarterfinal. Nor do we like an all-NCHA quarterfinal of 2W Adrian/1W St. Norbert.

So we're keeping Adrian in the West this year and it's going to host. Now, this means there are two quarterfinals in the West Region which some people will never be happy with, but we find it to be completely warranted were this the make-up of the tournament field.

Here's why:

Conveniently, the teams currently ranked second in their respective regions actually played this year, as on January 2 Adrian defeated Williams, 4-1. Thus we consider Adrian a higher overall seed here and are not prepared to give the Ephs a home quarterfinal while sending Adrian to either Hobart or St. Norbert.

This set-up also maintains perfect seed integrity within each region. This is about as good as it gets given the cruel realities of an 11-team tournament and its associated travel restrictions.

Our bracket is:

 

First Round

7E Nichols @ 2E Williams

Click to view full-size.

6E Salem State @ 3E Trinity

5E UMass Boston @ 4E Plattsburgh State

 

Quarterfinals

5E UMass Boston/4E Plattsburgh State @ 1E Hobart

6E Salem State/3E Trinity v. 7E Nichols/2E Williams

3W UW-Stevens Point @ 2W Adrian

4W Augsburg @ 1W St. Norbert

 

Analysis: 

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 two East-West semifinals. 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:

Hobart/UMass Boston/Plattsburgh State v. Adrian/UW-Stevens Point
St. Norbert/Augsburg v. Williams/Nichols/Trinity/Salem State

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.

 

Thoughts?

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 with your own ideas in the Bracketology Discussion over on the D3sports forums, comment below, or you can always yell at us on twitter @d3hky.

 

~

Friday, Oct. 20: All times Eastern
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7:00 PM
Holy Cross at Franklin Pierce
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