Case Study – West RAC Rankings

With the championship over, I’d like to start using some of this free time to do case studies that look into the final RAC rankings and the NCAA selections. I’m not doing this to be critical and frankly if there was an oversight I don’t think it would have had any impact into the final two teams playing at the end. However, I do think there is a level of accountability that is missing with the NCAA and I hope to provide some measure of that with these case studies. I also hope to gleam some understanding when we find a curious ranking or selection that will shed some light into the logic used. Maybe I can use this understanding next year when I try to guess at the rankings or selections.

With all of that said, I wanted to look at the West RAC Rankings first. After all, this is our home and if we’re going to look into any medicine cabinets or under little Billy’s mattress then we should start with our place first. For the most part the West RAC Rankings were pretty consistent from start to finish. I believed that we had a top tier team in Colorado College and then a very close second tier that consisted of CMS, Trinity and Southwestern. The ordering of this second tier was problematic due to the criteria advantages CMS had coupled with the head-to-head loss to Trinity. Initially, I saw Whittier as the next team followed by a tier of Pacific Lutheran, La Verne and UMHB. UT Dallas and UT Tyler were next and frankly with Cal Lutheran’s cold start and Chapman’s cold middle, I really didn’t have any teams after the UT schools. The West RAC generally agreed with my assessment with the exception of Whittier early on. I was shocked that Whittier was placed in the #3 spot the first two weeks but after looking at it, you could make a case if you took the approach of using the criteria as raw numbers without doing a closer inspection (a head-to-head win over Trinity also helped greatly). By closer inspection I mean that I like to look at the quality of teams being beaten and the quality of the losses. I was troubled by the Whittier losses to Augustana and Cal Lutheran and felt that this prevented them from being in my second tier of teams. As we learned through the RAC process this season, this is something that either isn’t looked at much or at all. Maybe I’ll debate this further at some other time but this was all a long winded way of saying that there wasn’t much conflict in the West RAC rankings this year.

With the last week or two in sight, I started fearing the possibility of 7 teams being selected for the West Regional instead of 8. Whittier, La Verne, UT Tyler and finally UMHB all struggled towards the end at times and the only up-and-comer was probably Cal Lutheran. This was all important because the 7th and 8th spot in the West RAC rankings were going to be our bubble teams and any school hoping for a bid needed to secure that position.

For the purposes of this post, I will consider the following teams, which are listed in the ranking I believe the West RAC had them. (I have eliminated UT Tyler as their finish coupled with their low SOS meant they had no chance.)

Rank School W/L Pct. SOS Ranked Pct.
1 Colorado College 29-0 1.000 0.597 10-0 1.000
2 CMS 25-4 0.862 0.606 7-3 0.700
3 Pacific Lutheran 20-4 0.833 0.556 3-2 0.600
4 Southwestern 26-4 0.867 0.554 4-4 0.500
5 Trinity 27-6 0.818 0.598 7-6 0.538
6 Whittier 18-9 0.667 0.600 4-4 0.500
7 UMHB 28-5 0.848 0.533 5-4 0.556
8 UT Dallas 24-10 0.706 0.555 5-7 0.417
9 La Verne 18-9 0.667 0.588 6-5 0.545
10 Cal Lutheran 16-11 0.593 0.593 2-7 0.222

The spots I’m curious about are Pacific Lutheran/Southwestern/Trinity ordering and then the Whittier on down ordering. I don’t think there should be any doubt about Colorado College at #1 and when looking at the criteria, the only area they could have lost out to another team would have been SOS. CMS only concern would have been Trinity due to their head-to-head loss. In the end, I believe the RAC used the raw numbers and trumped the head-to-head win with a ranked win percentage coupled with the Trinity loss to Whittier (common opponent). (Just to be clear, I think the SCIAC champion trumps the SCAC runner-up.)

So, now we come to the fun (assuming your mind is as warped as mine). Pacific Lutheran’s rise was interesting because they were stuck in the Northwest Conference playing league matches against teams of varying quality but none of them were as good as the Lutes. It would have been the equivalent of Southwestern or Trinity playing the SCAC if you took out each other and Colorado College. Pac Lu tripped up once but for the most part breezed through the competition. I believe I’m safe in the belief that Southwestern and Trinity would have done an equally fine job with the same schedule. In the end, a Southwestern loss to Trinity and a Trinity loss to Colorado College pushed the Lutes ahead of both into the #3 spot and on the surface this seems strange. If we look at the criteria, Southwestern has a better W/L record with their SOS being virtually identical. Pac Lu had a better ranked win percentage but played 3 less teams. The only logical conclusion is that the RAC determined a 3-2 record against ranked teams was better than Southwestern’s 4-4 record. I get troubled by this because again I would go to the fact that Southwestern’s losses were all to highly ranked teams – Colorado College twice and Trinity twice – where Pac Lu’s had two sticky losses – Whitman and Pacific. Again, another example of how the RAC was thinking, which is good for our purposes.

The Pac Lu and Trinity comparison is a little more troubling because their W/L is pretty close but Trinity holds a good sized lead in SOS. Trinity played 8 more ranked teams but comes away with a slightly worse win percentage. All things equal at this point and I’m picking Trinity but Trinity also had a victory over CMS that went on to beat Pac Lu (common opponent). Let’s come back to this.

With Southwestern and Trinity, the criteria is very close (except a SOS advantage for Trinity), but does it really matter? Trinity beat Southwestern 2 out of 3 times on the year with the latest victory coming one day prior to the release of the rankings. Which team was better? Kind of obvious, don’t you think? I really don’t have a clue why Southwestern was ranked ahead of Trinity. I can make no logical argument for it using the criteria that are consistent with the other examples we’ve seen. The really disturbing thing is the lack of respect for the recent head-to-head win.

So back to the ordering of these three teams. The criteria demanded the ordering be Trinity – Southwestern – Pacific Lutheran. If you wanted to swap SU with Pac Lu then fine but it shows a lack of depth in the analysis I believe required. In the end, this only impacted the regional seeding but I’ll bet every Trinity Tiger fan would have liked Whittier instead of Pacific Lutheran (after the fact).

Now to the back half of the rankings and I’ll admit that when the at-large selections came out I wasn’t surprised to see Whittier with a spot as I figured they would be ranked higher. Now that I’ve had the time to mull it over, I’m not so sure.

When you compare Whittier and UMHB, you see a big advantage in W/L for UMHB and a big advantage in SOS for Whittier. The ranked wins favor UMHB slightly with most of those being matches against UT Dallas. No head-to-head but UMHB lost to Trinity twice, a team Whittier beat (common opponent). Based on this, I can certainly see why Whittier was ranked ahead of UMHB. I will take a significant SOS advantage and a common Trinity match result over the W/L and a small ranked win advantage. A number of people will complain about Whittier not even making their conference tournament but you have to remember that each tournament is different. The SCIAC only accepts 4 teams and there was a three-way tie for 3rd place. Still, this might be a wake-up call to the SCIAC to increase the teams to 6 in order to match the SCAC and ASC. This season you put your teams at a disadvantage and frankly a conference tournament with those 5 teams plus Occidental (sneaky good) would have been a joy.

Back to Whittier and they also take down UTD based on the criteria. The problem area is when we look at Whittier against La Verne and Cal Lutheran. For the Cal Lutheran fans out there, your big issue was your poor W/L record coupled with your poor ranked wins record. When it came to NCAA selection you were immediately down two criteria to the entire nation and you had no hope of selection. When we look at the Regals versus Whittier, however, they do get the advantage of their two head-to-head wins and I’m all about those. In my mind there is no question that Cal Lu was better than Whittier at the end of the year but when we talk about the criteria Whittier’s W/L, small SOS advantage, ranked win advantage and a common opponent advantage (Pomona-Pitzer and Trinity) will trump the head-to-head victories. I’m more troubled by the Whittier and La Verne comparison. The W/L record is identical, small SOS advantage for Whittier, small ranked win advantage for La Verne (one being Springfield so blah on that) and a split of the head to head (with La Verne getting the most recent win). I think La Verne also would have had a common opponent advantage since they had a better record in the SCIAC. In my mind pretty equal so (without concern over NCAA selectability) give it to the team you think is better at the end and that’s La Verne. Oh, and La Verne beats out Cal Lutheran on the criteria despite the end of the year loss to them in the SCIAC Tournament (La Verne held a 2-1 head-to-head advantage plus other criteria advantages).

The monkey wrench in the entire SCIAC ordering is UMHB. Where do they fit as we’ve already seen they should be after Whittier? Well, I probably slot them behind La Verne, too, as you have the same W/L advantages for UMHB but a strong SOS advantage for La Verne. Ranked wins is very close (negligible advantage for UMHB) but La Verne has a common opponent advantage with UT Dallas. It really can go either way and upon further review I probably would have looked at NCAA selectability and how each team compares against the bubble teams from other regions. La Verne has an advantage here with their Babson and UW-Eau Claire victories. Once again the ranked wins criterion dooms Cal Lutheran and I slot them behind UMHB.

That leaves us with UT Dallas and I wasn’t too thrilled to see them at #8 since they had the automatic bid from the ASC. They basically hide who the West RAC had at #9 since only 8 teams are publicized. The other thing to remember is that by ranking UT Dallas, you impact the ranked wins category differently than you would if La Verne or someone else gets the nod. So, everything above is based on UT Dallas being ranked and if you change that then the ranked wins criterion can change. Regardless, let’s see if they deserved the #8 spot. UT Dallas suffers from the same issues Cal Lutheran has with a low W/L percentage and ranked win percentage. Their SOS is only average to good, as well. The UMHB comparison is close but I give the nod to the Cru over UT Dallas. They also lose the comparisons to Whittier and La Verne and remember La Verne has a head-to-head victory over UT Dallas. The Comets do beat out Cal Lutheran and I think that firmly puts the Regals at the bottom of my list. So, again, we find a curious ranking with UT Dallas at #8.

Whew! That was a lot to read through, but based on the above, here are the West Region Rankings I believe should have been announced (actual ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Colorado College (1)
  2. CMS (2)
  3. Trinity (5)
  4. Southwestern (4)
  5. Pacific Lutheran (3)
  6. La Verne (NR)
  7. Whittier (6)
  8. UMHB (7)
  9. UT Dallas (8)
  10. Cal Lutheran (NR)

Some of these are very close – Pac Lu versus Southwestern and Whittier versus La Verne – and if the ordering in these teams were reversed then so be it. The problem child is really La Verne because they were never considered for NCAA selection based on their placement behind UMHB (who didn’t get in) and this review shows they could have easily been the 6th team ranked in the West Region.

It’s really impossible to know for certainty the outcome of the at-large bids with this new ordering. We don’t know in what order the at-large teams came off the board and that’s important because it tells us what teams were compared to other teams. What if Trinity had a hard time getting in? That doesn’t make sense to me but maybe they blocked the west teams until the end leaving only a few rounds for Whittier. We just don’t know. My best guess is that with UT Dallas already in, the West Region was going to get at least 3 at-large bids so La Verne was going to make it. They had a head-to-head win against Babson (who made it in) so if they were compared against each other than that should have pushed them over. Whittier would have been up next and as we already know they were selected. This doesn’t mean they would have been in with this new ordering but they did own a victory over Ithaca although something tells me Ithaca was selected pretty early in the process and Whittier would have come in towards the end now. Probably a 50/50 shot the new ordering gets both La Verne and Whittier selected in my mind. (Which would have meant the regional would have been at Claremont!) The flip side to this new ordering is what if La Verne didn’t get in and blocked Whittier? That would have left 6 teams in the West Region and probably would have meant no Georgetown Regional. The 6 teams would have all flown to other regionals with the bulk going to a new regional in the Mid-Atlantic / New York Region.

Before I end this post I do want to remind everyone that I know for a fact that the ranking order done by the RAC has been overruled by the NCAA committee at times. They are tasked with reviewing the RAC’s input and ensuring the criteria is used properly. Now, as I’ve shown above we are lacking some consistency in the application of the criteria. I also have used the criteria incorrectly in my mind with respect to ranked wins because I believe that’s how the NCAA committee is directing the RACs to use it. So, bottom line, we don’t know all of what went into this final ranking as all I can use is the data provided by the NCAA. I am blessed without NCAA oversight.

Summary – La Verne probably got the shaft and was overlooked by the RAC. Their SCIAC semi-final loss to Cal Lutheran hurt them and it’s quite possible that the RAC just never gave them a full look again. Whittier was loved by the RAC (or maybe better to say by the NCAA committee offering oversight to the RAC) but I don’t believe their end of the year swoon was properly compensated for when compared with La Verne. The ordering of Pacific Lutheran, Southwestern and Trinity was just plain weird and not supported by the criteria but in the end it just impacted seeding. UMHB regardless of the ranking was not getting in and this is something I will look at in the future because they had a head-to-head victory over Birmingham-Southern.

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