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

by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer,

The second public NCAA rankings were released on Tuesday which means it's time once again for 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 19-5-1 and No. 3 in the West Region rankings is it possible UW-Stevens Point's tournament chances are in danger?
Photo: Ryan Coleman for

This week's rankings brought just two changes and they both came courtesy of the East Region:

1. Previous No. 4 Plattsburgh State rose to No. 3 in the East, while Trinity fell from third to fourth.

2. Utica, formerly tied for No. 10, is not present in this week's rankings.

Will those have an impact on our projected bracket? We'll find out, but before we proceed, a bit of the usual housekeeping regarding our objectives here:

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.  To this end, we remind ourselves of a few operating 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 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.


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 23

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

Analysis: As mentioned above, not a lot of changes here this week. However, it's worth noting that for the third year in a row Trinity has fallen in the regional rankings despite either not playing or playing and winning.

In this instance, the Bantams played twice last weekend and scored a pair of wins over then 2-12-8 Wesleyan. This dropped their SOS from .5420 to 5230 and is likely the reason we see Plattsburgh claim the three-spot in the East this week.

What's that you say? It seems odd to you that a team can get hurt by simply winning the games on its schedule? Yeah, it seems rather counterintuitive to us, too, but such is the system we're working within. Sadly, as we'll see in our Pool C comparisons down below, Trinity isn't the only team to have its numbers hurt despite winning last weekend...


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







Analysis: Note just the one change here this week, and it's that first-year program Endicott is now the projected ECAC Northeast Pool A recipient. This is by virtue of the Gulls edging out Nichols for the regular season ECACNE title and No. 1 league playoff seed.


  • Pool B:

As only ECAC West, WIAC, and independent teams are eligible here, this should be easy enough. No independent teams are anywhere near the mix so we end up with the same comparison we had last week, which is between the highest ranked ECAC West team, Hobart, and the highest-ranked WIAC team, UW-Stevens Point:

WIN  .8000  .7800
SOS  .5380  .5190
RNK  .5833 (3-2-1)
 .2500 (1-4-1)
H2H  -  -
COP  -  -

Utica's absence from this week's rankings puts a small dent in Hobart as it lowers the Statesmen's RNK from 6-2-1 to 3-2-1, but it does little to change this comparison. Even with the RNK hit, Hobart claims RNK, edges Stevens Point in WIN and holds a solid advantage in SOS.

This is once again very straightforward. Hobart is in the tournament and Stevens Point is headed to our Pool C pot.

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

We see the same six teams as last week, so let's again 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.

Trinity  .7610  .5230  .3750 (1-2-1)
Buffalo State  .6800  .5220  .4167 (2-3-1)
Babson  .7500  .5000  .6000 (3-2-0)
St. Norbert  .8700  .5240  .6429 (4-2-1)
UW-Stevens Point  .7800  .5190  .2500 (1-4-1)
Marian  .7400  .5160  .5000 (2-2-2)

If you recall our attempts at simplification last week, you'll remember that we took one look at this to see if there was any team we can immediately move into the tournament field. Yet again we believe there is as St. Norbert has the highest WIN, SOS and RNK of the bunch. Congratulations, Green Knights, now get out of our way as it gets a lot harder from here.

At the same time, is there anyone we can immediately discount? We think Babson and Marian are in big trouble here. Babson by virtue of its low SOS and both of them by virtue of their spots in this week's regional rankings. Also of note is that Marian's SOS dropped from .5430 to .5160 this week despite the fact it beat league opponent Aurora twice last weekend. Them's hard times for the Sabres, albeit it's unfortunately through no fault of their own.

Buffalo State also took a big SOS hit despite winning twice but we think the Bengals are still solidly in the mix, which leaves us three teams vying for the final two spots. In order to get a better visual on this, here's an expanded chart that includes our remaining three: Buffalo State, Trinity and UW-Stevens Point:

WIN  .6800  .7610  .7800
SOS  .5220  .5230  .5190
RNK  .4167 (2-3-1)  .3750 (1-2-1)  .2500 (1-4-1)
H2H  -  -

 0-1-1 w/Stevens Point
 0-0-1 w/Trinity

 1-0-0 w/ Buffalo State  0-1-0 w/Buffalo State

Well, this is admittedly messy as there's nothing notable about any of the three that give it a clear-cut edge over the other two. So how do we find some separation between these teams? Let's start by telling you what we can't bring ourselves to use to end one of these team's seasons:

COP: The sample size is laughably tiny and so insignificant so as be meaningless to us. Are we really prepared to send Buffalo State home because it tied Elmira while Trinity beat the Soaring Eagles, 2-1? No, we are not. Are we really prepared to send Stevens Point home because it lost to St. Norbert while Buffalo State lost and tied the Green Knights? No, we are not.

RNK: We touched on the fact last week that we don't like putting emphasis on straight up RNK as it implies it's better to lose to bad teams than to good ones, which is a rather foolish governing principle. But if we look inside the RNK numbers and just look at wins and ties, what do we see? Buffalo State has a pair of wins over Geneseo, Trinity has a win over Norwich and a tie with Hobart, and Stevens Point has a win over Adrian.

There's not a lot of difference there. As far as the losses go, with all due respect, are we prepared to send Buffalo State home because it lost to Plattsburgh instead of Morrisville, or to send Trinity home because it lost to Williams instead of Wesleyan, or to send Stevens Point home because it lost to St. Norbert instead of Aurora? No, we are not.

So what's left?

Well, we've got WIN sitting there, and of course the almighty SOS. So what do they tell us? For all practical purposes we're going to call the SOS numbers a wash here as the respective SOS values of these three teams are separated by a mere four thousandths of a point. That's the difference between scheduling a single non-conference game with Bowdoin instead of SUNY Potsdam. For real. Are we prepared to drop the hammer on one of the three here (or give it a boost) because of that? No, we are not.

That leaves WIN. While we generally prefer not to use it as such a powerful determinant as other factors certainly do generally matter, in this case we think it's the way to go.  There is nothing meritorious that separates the three elsewhere. If we consider their schedules over the course of the entire season to be even, we are going to take the two that fared the best, over the course of that entire season, against those schedules.

That means we're going with Trinity and Stevens Point for the final two spots.

Now, do we believe the committee would ever break this comparison down this way? Not in the slightest, which means we wouldn't be shocked at all if it came to a different conclusion. That said, while we do not particularly enjoy the fact we had to send any of these three home, we feel our conclusions have been reached in the most thorough, equitable, meaningful and defensible manner possible.

You know, there's an old adage that says "the definition of statistics is the science of producing unreliable facts from reliable figures."

We feel that if we allowed RNK or COP to swing this final comparison at all we'd be doing even worse than that; we'd be producing unreliable facts from unreliable figures. Which is why we made the best judgement we could based on the, in this instance, most meaningful indicator of how each team performed over the course of its entire season against the schedule it was given.

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


Setting the Field

Thus, our full tournament field is: 

ECACNE: Endicott
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 1W St. Norbert
2E Williams 2W Adrian
3E Plattsburgh State
3W UW-Stevens Point
4E Trinity NRW Augsburg
8E UMass Boston  
NRE Salem State  
NRE Endicott  






Note: We made one minor change with the way we are presenting these. Rather than listing by tournament seed, we have elected to list by regional rank. This allows for a bit more consistency as we walk through this process, and will also maximize clarity regarding our reasons for doing what we ultimately do with the bracket.


Setting the Bracket

Well, this should prove easy this week as it's the exact same situation we had last week. Plattsburgh and Trinity have flipped seeds and Endicott is now in as the lowest East Region team, but it doesn't change the structure of our projected bracket.

As the top-ranked teams in their regions, Hobart and St. Norbert still will go straight to home quarterfinal games, which leaves just one other home bye to the quarterfinals up for grabs. If we look at the second-ranked teams in each region we have Williams and Adrian. Conveniently, they played each other this year and Adrian won, 4-1. Thus we consider Adrian a higher seed and the Bulldogs get the third and final bye to a home quarterfinal.

From there, geography and travel restrictions dictate Stevens Point has to go to Adrian and from there we simply seed the rest of the field accordingly.

Endgame relative to last week's projection: Trinity and Plattsburgh switch spots and Endicott takes the spot of Nichols in the first round.


First Round

NRE Endicott @ 2E Williams

Click bracket to view full-size.

NRE Salem State @ 3E Plattsburgh State

8E UMass Boston @ 4E Trinity



8E UMass Boston/4E Trinity @ 1E Hobart

NRE Salem State/3E Plattsburgh State v. NRE Endicott/2E Williams

3W UW-Stevens Point @ 2W Adrian

NRW Augsburg @ 1W St. Norbert



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 do the same thing we did last week and 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/Trinity v. Adrian/UW-Stevens Point
St. Norbert/Augsburg v. Williams/Endicott/Plattsburgh State/Salem State



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.



No contests today.
No contests today.
No contests today.