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College Hockey:
Crunching the Numbers

So who’s a lock for the nationals? Who’s on the bubble? Who needs a minor miracle? A major one?

The NCAA Division III selection committee will be busy on Sunday, but part of the job will already be done for them before they start their conference call. Seven of the eight slots will be determined in games played either Saturday or Sunday. Six automatic qualifiers will be given out, one each to the champions of the NESCAC, SUNYAC, ECAC East, ECAC Northeast, MIAC and NCHA. Also, because RIT and Elmira are currently deadlocked in the race for the lone pool “B” bid, it’s a safe bet that the if either wins the ECAC West title, they’ll be invited to the big dance.

That means the committee really only has to pick one at-large team, and it must come from one of the conferences that is granted an automatic qualifier. They then have to seed the eight teams and come up with pairings, taking into account geographical considerations.

How will they do it? More quantitatively that you might think. According to sources on the committee, they’ll crunch some numbers. A set of criteria has been established to rank the teams under consideration, as well as seed them once they’re selected. There are actually two committees at this point, one for the east and one for the west. They’ll merge the final weekend of the season. Each has done an informal poll each week, applying the above criteria, so each already knows how the teams currently rank in relation to one another.

The criteria are divided into “tiers”, with the first tier being overall winning percentage, head-to-head results, and results against common opponents. Only “in-region” games are included, unless tiebreakers are needed.

If a decision can’t be clearly made using the first tier, then the second tier criteria will be used. It’s strength of schedule, as measured by the aggregate winning percentage of a team’s opponents.

The third tier criteria is record against teams already in the tournament. That should be sufficient to break any ties that still exist.

So of the teams left over after the atuomatic bids are given out, the one that looks the best after applying the above criteria will be selected.

The committee will then apply the same rules, as well as bring geographical (i.e. “cost”) considerations into play, and come up with the seedings and pairings.

As of today (3/2/00), let’s play along at home and see where the top 10 teams would be ranked using these criteria.

Norwich

Overall D-III Record: 20-2-1
Regional D-III Record: 19-2-1 (.886)
Head-to-Head: has defeated Plattsburgh, split with Middlebury, lost to RIT (also beat Wis-Stevens Point out of region)
Results against Common Opponents: is slightly behind Plattsburgh (5-2 to 6-2), edges Middlebury (16-0-1 to 16-2-1), beats RIT (5-0 to 4-1-1), beats Elmira (7-1 to 6-3)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 282-191-34 (.590)

St. Thomas

Overall D-III Record: 23-2-2
Regional D-III Record: 22-2-2 (.885)
Head-to-Head: has defeated Wis-Stevens Point, tied St. Norbert, and split with Concordia (also defeated Williams in out-of-region play)
Results against Common Opponents: is edged by Wis-Stevens Point (15-3 to 14-2-2), beats Wis Superior (17-2-2 to 14-7), beats St. Norbert (14-1-1 to 9-2-1), beats Concordia (19-1-1 to 16-2-1)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 302-240-50 (.552)

Plattsburgh

Overall D-III Record: 23-3-1
Regional D-III Record: 23-3-1 (.870)
Head-to-Head: has defeated Elmira twice, beaten RIT, split with Middlebury and lost to Norwich
Results against Common Opponents: edges Norwich (6-2 to 5-2), loses to Middlebury (1-2 to 2-1-2), edges RIT (15-2 to 13-2), beats Elmira (17-1 to 11-2)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 322-238-31 (.569)

Wis.-Stevens Point

Overall D-III Record: 23-6
Regional D-III Record: 22-5 (.815)
Head-to-Head: has defeated Wis-Superior twice, won two of three against St. Norbert, has beaten Concordia, and lost to St. Thomas (also beat Middlebury and lost to Norwich in out-of-region play)
Results against Common Opponents: edges St. Thomas (15-3 to 14-2-2), beats Wis-Superior (17-3 to 18-5), beats St. Norbert (16-3 to 14-4-2), tied Concordia (16-4 to 12-3)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 391-272-42 (.584)

Middlebury

Overall D-III Record: 17-5-1
Regional D-III Record: 17-3-1 (.833)
Head-to-Head: has split with Plattsburgh and Norwich (also lost to Wis-Stevens Point and St. Norbert in out-of-region play)
Results against Common Opponents: is slightly behind Norwich (16-2-1 to 16-0-1), beats Plattsburgh (2-1-2 to 1-2), is tied with RIT (5-2-1 to 5-2-1), edges Elmira (5-1-1 to 5-2)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 299-175-40 (.621)

RIT

Overall D-III Record: 17-3-1
Regional D-III Record: 17-3-1 (.833)
Head-to-Head: has defeated Norwich, split with Elmira, and lost to Plattsburgh
Results against Common Opponents: loses to Norwich (5-0 to 4-1-1), is slightly behind Plattsburgh (15-2 to 13-2), is tied with Middlebury (5-2-1 to 5-2-1), edges Elmira (13-2-1 to 12-3)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 244-202-34 (.544)

Elmira

Overall D-III Record: 18-5
Regional D-III Record: 17-4 (.810)
Head-to-Head: has split with RIT, and lost Plattsburgh twice (also split with Wis-Superior in out-of-region play)
Results against Common Opponents: loses to Norwich (7-1 to 6-3), loses to Plattsburgh, (17-1 to 11-2), is slightly behind Middlebury (5-1-1 to 5-2), is slightly behind RIT (13-2-1 to 12-3)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 270-221-39 (.546)

Wis.-Superior

Overall D-III Record: 21-8
Regional D-III Record: 20-7 (.741)
Head-to-Head: has split four games with St. Norbert, lost twice to Wis-Stevens Point and lost to Concordia (also split with Elmira in out-of-region play)
Results against Common Opponents: loses to St. Thomas (17-2-2 to 14-7), loses to Wis-Stevens Point (17-3 to 18-5), beats St. Norbert (17-3 to 13-3-1), beats Concordia (18-4 to 9-2-2)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 360-296-37 (.546)

St. Norbert

Overall D-III Record: 22-5-2
Regional D-III Record: 18-6-2 (.731)
Head-to-Head: has split four games with Wis-Superior, lost two of three to Wis-Stevens Point, and tied St. Thomas (also has beaten Middlebury in out-of-region play)
Results against Common Opponents: loses to St. Thomas (14-1-1 to 9-2-1), loses to Wis-Stevens Point (16-3 to 14-4-2), loses to Wis-Superior (17-3 to 13-3-1), beats Concordia (17-4-2 to 10-4-2)
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 366-310-33 (.539)

Concordia

Overall D-III Record: 19-4-2 Regional D-III Record: 19-4-2 (.769)
Head-to-Head: has defeated Wis-Superior, split with St. Thomas, and lost to Wis-Stevens Point
Results against Common Opponents: loses to St. Thomas (19-1-1 to 16-2-1), loses to Wis-Stevens Point (16-4 to 12-3), loses to Wis-Superior (18-4 to 9-2-2), loses to St. Norbert (17-4-2 to 10-4-2).
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: 264-261-49 (.503)

So what does all that mean at this point? Let’s continue to play at home. Ranking the eastern teams, based on the above criteria, yields:

1. Norwich
2. Plattsburgh
3. Middlebury
4. RIT (very close to Middlebury)
5. Elmira

Remember, RIT and Elmira both can’t get bids, nor can they receive a pool “C” slot. As things stand now, the team that does the best in the ECAC West playoffs will probably get the #4 eastern seed, possibly #3 if Middlebury loses the NESCAC.

The ECAC Northeast winner is a lock for the #5 eastern bid.

If there are no upsets, expect the top three to be seeded that way in the NCAAs. If any of them lose, then they’ll be compared to the #3 western seed to see who gets the pool “C” slot.

Turning out west, if we apply the same criteria, we get:

1. St. Thomas
2. Wis.-Stevens Point
3. St. Norbert
4. Wis.-Superior (barely behind St. Norbert)
5. Concordia

St. Norbert and Wis.-Superior are so close, the committee may decide to include out-of-region games as a tiebreaker, and St. Norbert gets the nod there with wins over Middlebury and Southern Maine and a sweep of Fredonia, while Superior split with Elmira.

It looks like Superior needs to win its way into the nationals by taking the NCHA title. If that happens, Point goes into pool “C” where it compares nicely to any eastern team other that Norwich and Plattsburgh. How big now is the UWSP win at Middlebury back in early December?

How does this compare with USCHO’s DIII Pairwise Rankings? Remember, the PWR is used in the Division I tournament selection, so it may be interesting to see how the PWR compares to these rankings. You can bet the committee will at least glance at the PWR results before the final decisions are made.

The PWR is not so different: it compares each team over .500 (a Team Under Comparison, or TUC) with every other TUC, according to five criteria: record in last 16 games, record against TUCs, head-to-head record, record against common opponents, and finally, as a criteria as well as a method to break ties, the Ratings Percentage Index. The RPI weighs winning percentage (35%), opponent’s winning percentge (50%), and opponent’s opponent’s winning percentage (15%). A thorough explanation of the PWR is available elsewhere at USCHO.

If you are a hardcore number cruncher, you can examine each one of the hundreds of comparisons, one by one. Otherwise, here is the bottom line, as of March 2:

Rk Team        GP W- L- T Win% Rk   RPI Rk PWR
1 Norwich 23 20- 2- 1 0.8913 1 | 0.6851 1 | 30
2 St Thomas 27 23- 2- 2 0.8889 2 | 0.6530 4 | 29
3 Plattsburgh 27 23- 3- 1 0.8704 3 | 0.6716 2 | 28
4 Wis-Stevens Point 29 23- 6- 0 0.7931 5 | 0.6480 5 | 27
5 Middlebury 23 17- 5- 1 0.7609 10 | 0.6533 3 | 26
6 RIT 21 17- 3- 1 0.8333 4 | 0.6414 6 | 25
7 St Norbert 29 22- 5- 2 0.7931 5 | 0.6247 7 | 23
8 Bowdoin 23 16- 5- 2 0.7391 11 | 0.6238 8 | 23
9 Elmira 23 18- 5- 0 0.7826 8 | 0.6232 9 | 23
10 Williams 24 15- 6- 3 0.6875 14 | 0.6230 10 | 21
11 Wis-Superior 29 21- 8- 0 0.7241 13 | 0.6048 12 | 19
12 Concordia 24 18- 4- 2 0.7917 7 | 0.6039 13 | 19

The PWR continues through to 31, including all DIII teams over .500. For brevity, I cut off the list at 12.

Assuming no upsets in conference tournaments, teams 1-5 get automatic qualifiers, and either No. 6 RIT or No. 9 Elmira will get the pool “B” slot. One team will be selected by winning the ECAC Northeast (Fitchburg State is ranked highest by PWR at No. 17).

After that, however, it is a logjam for the final slot. Bowdoin and St Norbert both made early exits from their conference tournaments. Right now, St Norbert holds the slimmest of leads on Bowdoin: .0009 of the RPI. Williams is still playing, and could improve some of the criteria to pass either or both of these teams. It would appear the PWR agrees that Wis-Superior most likely needs a championship in the NCHA tournament to advance further. Any conference tournament upsets would doom any chance these schools may have, and would seem to result in the last spot going to the conference runner-up, which would be one of the teams in the top 5 of the PWR.

Netting It All Out

There’s still a lot to be decided, but we can put some stakes in the ground:

1. The ECAC Northeast champion will be the No. 5 eastern seed. If the west gets three teams (MIAC champ, NCHA champ, pool “C”), then expect the Northeast champ to be shipped west.

2. Either Elmira or RIT will claim the No. 4 and possibly No. 3 Eastern seed.

3. If Norwich or Plattsburgh lose in their playoffs , Wis.-Stevens Point wins the NCHA and St. Thomas wins the MIAC, there will be six eastern teams and just two from the west. The pairings will probably have the western schools playing each other in the quarterfinals.

4. If Wis.-Stevens Point loses to Wis.-Superior, it should get the Pool “C” bid, unless Norwich, Plattsburgh or St. Thomas lose.

5. If St. Thomas loses in the MIAC, it will get the Pool “C” bid unless Norwich loses.

6. Wis.-Superior probably needs to win the NCHA to make the NCAAs. It’s a certainty that Concordia, Potsdam, Willaims, Colby, Hamilton, Salem State, UMass-Boston, New England College, Tufts, Wentworth, UMass-Dartmouth and Fitchburg will have to win their conference title to make the big dance.

Twenty teams.

Eight slots.

Drop the puck!


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