by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
No more regional rankings to be released, no more games to play, and not much to do aside from wait until Monday morning's bracket reveal -- except of course to run through our final edition of 2018 Men's Bracketology as we reveal our final projection.
|Trinity is defending national runner-up and looking for its fourth straight NCAA appearance, and its backs now to the wall after a NESCAC finals loss to Colby.
Photo: Jeff Melnik for d3photography.com
Plenty has changed since our Tuesday edition and this time events are surely going to alter the look of our field and potentially our bracket. Here are the weekend takeaways we think will prove significant:
- The seven Pool A teams are now known, which means we already know more than half the field. This year's autobid winners are: Augsburg, Colby, Fitchburg State, Hobart, Nichols, St. Norbert, and SUNY Geneseo.
- The most signficant outcomes of the weekend from a Pool C selection standpoint were the Nichols win over University of New England in the CCC championship game and Colby's win over Trinity in the NESCAC final as UNE and Trinity now join the Pool C group, of which they were not a part of on Tuesday. However, the impact of these will be somewhat mitigated by the fact Hobart won the NEHC, which removes the Statesmen from the Pool C discussion while the team it beat, Norwich, will not be entering it.
- Utica won and UW-Stevens Point lost, which will tighten the Pool B comparison.
We think that's it in terms of pure outcomes that will alter the picture we had on Tuesday, though there some other things that will as well -- namely any projected changes in the regional rankings.
So without further ado, we will run through the process one final time to reveal our final bracket. As a reminder, we do not seek to predict what the committee itself will do, but rather seek to implement the process to yield the best field and bracket that are valid per the constraints of the process itself.
Let's do it.
- 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 27
|EAST REGION||WEST REGION|
|1. Salve Regina||1. Adrian|
|2. U. of New England||2. St. Norbert|
|3. Hobart||3. UW-Stevens Point|
|4. Oswego State||4. Marian|
|5. SUNY Geneseo||5. Augsburg|
|7. Plymouth State|
|9. Buffalo State|
Analysis: Now, these are the rankings from last Tuesday and this is one of the few unfortunate spots where we have to make some assumptions -- and even worse is that they are assumptions that are bound to affect the bracket. Nonetheless, we must do so, and here are the important changes we think should happen and they're ones we're going to stick with for our analysis:
- St. Norbert moves to 1W and Adrian drops to 2W. As far as the rest of the West, it's conceivable Stevens Point falls and Augsburg moves up but we're going to ignore that for now as it's not going to affect our bracket.
- Hobart moves to 2E (possibly even 1E, but we're going with 2E) and University of New England drops to 3E.
- Oswego stays at 4E. Not so much a change but perhaps maybe a surprise that we aren't going to move Geneseo up to 4E. This is a really, really tight comparison that could go either way, but without getting into too many details we think the Lakers' 1-0-1 H2H edge serves more or less as a tiebreaker. We actually think the East regional committee will do the opposite, but we don't see it so we're not going to do it.
More can and will certainly occur, especially in the bottom half of the East, but as it pertains to analysis those are the ones we believe will matter. Additionally, could any new teams become ranked and potentially affect the RNK of any teams in Pool B or C consideration? Possibly. We think the West is stable as there just isn't anyone out there, even Eau Claire, with the numbers to bump anyone out, while in the East perhaps Nichols, or even Fitchburg, moves in. Those seem to be the two most likely to us but the only real effect of either would be Nichols adding 2-0 RNK to Salve Regina and 1-1-1 RNK to University of New England. Neither will matter.
As we will find out, the real impact of any changes here will be on bracket alignment. They will not affect our Pool selections.
- 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||.500 (1-1-1)||.400 (2-3-0)|
|COP||.000 (0-1-0)||1.000 (2-0-0)|
Analysis: Not too much has changed here from a criteria standpoint, though what did change gave Utica as much help as it could get as the Pioneers won the UCHC title game over Elmira while the Pointers fell in the WIAC final to UW-Eau Claire. The net result from a comparison standpoint is Utica now claims WIN, which was tied earlier in the week, by a small amount. It might also be worth noting that Stevens Point likely got a slightly larger SOS boost as Eau Claire has a nominally better record than Elmira.
All that said, does this change our outlook that has given this bid to the Pointers in each of the previous three editions? Well let's see.
Straight by the numbers this is a 2-2 split, but there's still a problem for Utica in that neither of its two advantages are statistically significant, quantitatively or qualititatively, whereas the Pointers' two advantages are, especially in terms of SOS -- but more on that in a minute.
Utica claims RNK by a half game and grabs WIN by the same margin. Just to illustrate the WIN analysis, if you extrapolate the ties across their records to calculate WIN we see Utica (21-5-1) is 21.5-5.5 and Stevens Point (20-5-3) is 21.5-6.5. A half game.
The entire question then becomes whether Utica's two tiny advantages can overcome the Pointers’ two larger ones, and we don't think so. SOS is the real driver here as while Utica's has come up a bit over the past two weeks, it remains extremely low. So low, in fact, that we checked with d3sports.com Publisher Pat Coleman to see if he could recall teams in other sports getting the nod with such a low SOS, and it just doesn't seem to happen -- and it has definitely never happened in hockey.
Could it happen, though? Of course, and we don't think the Pioneers are completely dead here. But to us, to move Utica in we'd have to award it this comparison by taking its two statistically insignificant advantages and finding a way to explain why they carry more weight than the two Stevens Point has. Considering the Pointers' big edge in SOS...it's not a case we believe we can credibly make.
Now, the committee could certainly come to a different conclusion here by treating SOS differently than it has been in the past, and Utica has done all it can to help itself, but to us it's clear that while this has tightened as much as it possibly could have, the only meaningful advantages here still go to the Pointers.
But a warning to Stevens Point: It's likely Pool B or bust as if it doesn't get this it's likely not going to get anything at all.
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: Salve Regina, University of New England, Oswego State, Utica, Plymouth State, Trinity
West: Adrian, 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.
|University of New England
|Plymouth State||.769||.495+||.0000 (0-1-0)|
Analysis: For starters, what's with all the teams? Easy, and we said we'd explain it if and when we did it. And here it is: The reasoning is that the final regional rankings are simply advisory for the national committee and they are free to manipulate as they desire -- or examine teams ranked lower that one would think possible to get into the discussion. And it does indeed happen, and has happened more recently than you might think, so we brought in a few more just to be thorough in case there was a team hiding somewhere that might be otherwise overlooked. We do note that we still only have two West Region teams in here as we simply do not believe there are any others with the resumes to plausibly be brought into the discssion.
But anyway, right off the top are there any we can take right away? As always seems to be the case, we think there are. Adrian and Salve Regina simply have superior resumes. The only quasi-negative anywhere is Adrian's RNK and it's not enough to do anything to hurt its massive WIN and the best SOS in the nation. As we mentioned in the last edition, Salve's loss in the CCC semifinals did nothing to change the fact its resume remains impressively strong. The Bulldogs and Seahawks are in.
And right behind them we see UNE, which has the second-best WIN left, highest SOS remaining, and a RNK as good as or better than everyone but Oswego, and the only team that tops UNE in WIN is Utica, which has its massive SOS disadvantage. UNE comes off the board here.
And we're swiftly down to one spot, so let's consolidate what we have left:
Note we also dropped Plymouth State as though we brought the Panthers in just to get a look, it became clear they aren't going to receive a bid. But ok, so if we go by the regional rankings we would just grab Oswego and compare it with Marian, but recall that those are simply advisory for the national committee (and we don't know them for sure anyway) so we think this group of four are the ones that the real discussion will come from.
And what do we have? Well, we've got a winner in our mind, but how did we get there? The first thing we note is that there are only a couple of outliers here, which are Utica's WIN and SOS, and Oswego and Marian's SOS. Take those four out and the rest are statistical washes, so it's the outliers we must look at.
The big one is Utica's SOS. To take Utica here, despite its edge in WIN, would defy literally decades of Division III selections. Same as Pool B, could the committee do it? Absolutely and that would be fine, but our job is to implement the process and we just cannot bring ourselves to defy a mountain of precedent when it comes to a SOS that low. We can't do it, and it does matter that it's as low as it is. Thus, we like Oswego and Trinity both over Utica, and we like them over Marian as well for that matter due to the Sabres' low RNK.
So we're down to the Lakers and Bantams, both worthy teams no doubt. If we call WIN and SOS a wash, which they are, we see Oswego with a nice advantage in RNK, but what about COP? Well let's check.
The pair have both played Nazareth, Hobart and Middlebury. Against that trio, Oswego is 1-2 and Trinity is 3-1-1, so it appears COP is an almost freakish wash with RNK and now we're stuck as the two did not play H2H this season. So what to do?
How about the secondary criteria? We know it's been used recently and it's another tool we have at our disposal, so let's use it. The big one there could be L25, or performance over the last 25% of the season. They're both 4-3. Great. Let's rewrite this just to see what it is we're dealing with there, as it isn't pretty:
Well this is encouraging. But, one way or another we must come to a conclusion and the only two things we've got that don't wash are RNK and COP. So which do we like and why?
But why? Because with little else to go on we feel it's a better indicator of the direct relative quality between the teams: their performance against identical competition. Yes it's a small sample size and we'd really like to have more work with than this, but ultimately we have to decide based on...something.
And our something is that against the same competition Trinity performed better than Oswego and we think that outweighs the Lakers' RNK egde. The Bantams are in.
A note on this though: Oswego is already ahead of Trinity in the East regional rankings and the Bantams are coming off a 1-1 weekend so we assume the Lakers would maintain their edge. If that's the case, could they get in on that alone over Trinity by simply being taken off the board first? Certainly. Between that and how tight this is to begin with, there's plenty of hope for Oswego here -- and for the record we actually think the committte would take Oswego here, so how about that?
The Pool C bids are awarded to: Adrian, Salve Regina, University of New England, Trinity
Setting the Field
Thus, our full tournament field is:
|Pool B:||UW-Stevens Point|
|Pool C:||Salve Regina|
|Pool C:||University of New England|
Seeding the Field
1E Salve Regina
1W St. Norbert
Setting the Bracket
Note how we arranged the bottom of the East. Fitchburg State and Colby could go either way there as Fitchburg has a huge WIN edge and Colby as a big SOS advantage. We went with Fitchburg but it's a toss-up. Worth pointing out as it will affect where they fall in the bracket.
Anyway, and we're going to be quick this time, Adrian is in and it's an 8-4 split so we're right back where we always are. Do we go with two West Region quarterfinals or do we go with Adrian hosting the winner of a game between two East Region teams? We've covered the relative merits of both plenty of times, but thankfully we don't even need to bother with that this time.
The answer is given to us.
Hobart moving to 2E or 1E creates a problem we can't get around. Recall this NCAA manual excerpt from our February 13 edition:
- 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.
See, there are reasons we point these things out. Even if Oswego were in over Trinity, the Adrian versus the East option forces Hobart into a first round game in which the winner would play at Adrian, which directly violates that clause if Hobart is 1E or 2E as it sticks it on the road for a quarterfinal.
So as long as we follow the rules we've been given...we can't do it...even if we wanted to.
Two West Region quarterfinals it is. From there it shapes up just like the real bracket did last year and we just drop everyone in right by seed and that's it. Or is it? One more thing we must account for is that we cannot have members of the same league meet in the first round, which means we need to do something about the 3E UNE/6E Nichols paring. Easy enough as we'll flip 6E Nichols and 7E Fitchburg (which could just as easily be Colby). And now...that's that.
Our bracket is:
8E Colby @ 1E Salve Regina
|Click to view full-size.|
6E Nichols @ 2E Hobart
7E Fitchburg State @ 3E University of New England
5E Trinity @ 4E SUNY Geneseo
4W Augsburg @ 1W St. Norbert
3W UW-Stevens Point @ 2W Adrian
SUNY Geneseo/Trinity v. Colby/Salve Regina
Fitchburg State/University of New England v. Nichols/Hobart
And as far as setting up the semifnals, we'll again put 1W on same side of the bracket as 2E, and 1E on the same side as 2W, and that is again...that.
It's of course not again perfect as both bracket alignment options have significant problems, but in this instance if Hobart moves into the top two in the East (which we think it should and will), we believe this option is forced per NCAA bylaws and there's just no way around it.
Beyond that, how could this deviate from what we see on Monday morning? We will of course address that in full in tomorrow night's annual Tournament Selections Explained column but here are the key things that could lead to deviations:
- Hobart does not move into top two in East
- Utica wins the Pool B comparison
- The indentity of the fourth Pool C recipient. The first three seem quite clear but the fourth is up in the air. And recall we've already predicted here that our conclusion will differ from the committee's
- The actual order of the final East rankings
Fun, ain't it? Ah well, that's a wrap, and it's our interpretation of the most justifiable and equitable application of the process that sticks to the limitations contained therein.
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.