Case Study – Outside the West

For my next case study I wanted to branch out and look at some curious rankings in other regions. When I did my mock NCAA at-large selection exercise, I had to identify the teams in each region that would be up for selection. This meant I essentially had to guess at the rankings for each region and I wasn’t always correct. So, let’s see where I went wrong. In the Central Region I had thought St. Olaf would be the next team for consideration after St. Thomas and all of the automatic qualifiers. Instead St. Olaf wasn’t ranked at all and, instead, we found Luther and Bethel. In the Great Lakes Region, I had Mount Union getting selected and they were actually ranked behind DePauw (another team I thought would get in). In the Midwest Region we have the UW-Whitewater versus UW-Eau Claire positioning. (In the end, this didn’t matter because both schools were snubbed, but I still thought Whitewater would be ranked ahead of Eau Claire.) Finally, in the New York Region we have the Vassar ranking dropping from #1 to #6 even though I still had Vassar in the #1 spot.

Here are the teams involved in the St. Olaf (Central) rankings:

Rank School W/L Pct. SOS Ranked Pct.
7 Luther 16-10 0.615 0.596 4-7 0.364
8 Bethel 19-8 0.704 0.542 2-3 0.400
 
NR St. Olaf 22-11 0.667 0.514 2-6 0.250

Well, judging from the table, this will be a short discussion…I was wrong. In the previous ranking (the one I had to go by), the Central had Bethel and Minnesota-Morris as the 7th and 8th ranked teams. In the MIAC tournament, St. Olaf defeated Bethel before losing to St. Thomas. This was St. Olaf’s 2nd win against no defeats against Bethel so I assumed there was no way Bethel should be ranked higher. Minnesota-Morris had a defeat at the hands of Bethel, so again, good news for St. Olaf due to common opponent. In the end, if you are looking at the criteria with no real priority then you can see St. Olaf is on the losing side of the W/L, SOS and Ranked Wins criteria. My lesson learned here is that although I believe head-to-head is more important the RACs (as directed by the NCAA) do not value this criterion more than the others. In fact, I would say that head-to-head may be considered as one of the least important, which is certainly strange to me. In the end, I can see why Luther was inserted in the 7th spot as the RACs may have been trying to capitalize on the SOS but regardless of the order, the Central wasn’t getting another team in the tournament.

The Mount Union versus DePauw comparison is more a chance for me to go back and see why I messed up on Mount Union. I had Mount Union in the tournament on first glance and I remember going through my mock selection and thinking that I should have looked at them harder but I was pressed for time and didn’t do it. Now I will.

Rank School W/L Pct. SOS Ranked Pct.
5 DePauw 20-7 0.741 0.621 4-6 0.400
6 Mount Union 25-5 0.833 0.562 3-4 0.429

I vividly remember being excited when I went through my mock and seeing DePauw’s selection resume. They were my first bubble team taken and I was hoping they were all that easy. They weren’t. Anyway, let’s look at the comparison. DePauw loses out on W/L but has a nice SOS advantage over Mount Union. Ranked wins is close but based ONLY on percentage, Mount Union is ahead. And then there is that pesky head-to-head win Mount Union has over DePauw. Uh oh…this is a close comparison but I’m not sure how DePauw moved ahead in the final ranking. This could be a case where the RAC looked deeper at the teams and decided the signature wins (Aurora, Wash-St. Louis and Millikin) coupled with the SOS was reason enough for DePauw to move up? From a West Region standpoint, Mount Union looks a lot like UMHB. Maybe the lesson learned here is that in addition to head-to-head having less importance, a gaudy W/L record also doesn’t matter as much?

Now in the exercise in futility, let’s compare UW-Eau Claire and UW-Whitewater.

Rank School W/L Pct. SOS Ranked Pct.
8 UW-Eau Claire 17-11 0.607 0.629 4-9 0.308
NR UW-Whitewater 22-8 0.733 0.590 4-8 0.333

This ranking was important (so we thought) because we all knew the Midwest was going to get 5 at-large teams into the tournament but were unsure about a 6th. If I’m choosing Eau Claire here then it all comes down to the SOS advantage Eau Claire has over Whitewater and maybe two better signature wins (St. Thomas and Wittenberg). If I’m choosing Whitewater then it comes down to the better W/L record and the head-to-head victory in the WIAC semi-final. I probably also point out that every Whitewater loss was to a ranked team and although that matters to me significantly, it seems to be lost on the RACs. I’m still comfortable with my choice of Whitewater over Eau Claire as well as my selection of BOTH teams into the tournament. What’s the lesson learned here? Maybe it’s that the Midwest Region doesn’t really matter to the NCAA selection committee. They are the snot nosed kid that no one knows is brilliant and they just get shooed away.

Finally off to the New York region where I had Vassar as the #1 team only to see them dropped to 6th. I didn’t have them getting in and in the process blocking Ithaca (which would have been a shame). Let’s see where I went wrong.

Rank School W/L Pct. SOS Ranked Pct.
1 Clarkson 21-7 0.750 0.595 7-7 0.500
2 Stevens 26-7 0.788 0.574 5-5 0.500
3 Ithaca 21-8 0.724 0.618 5-8 0.385
4 Brockport 25-8 0.758 0.564 5-7 0.417
5 Kean 27-10 0.730 0.556 5-4 0.556
6 Vassar 22-7 0.759 0.547 6-4 0.600

I’ve listed 6 teams although 4 of these had an automatic qualifier bid because like I said I had Vassar #1. For purposes of the at-large, only the Ithaca/Vassar comparison is relative. What is interesting about Vassar is that they have played all of the teams ahead of them with the exception of Kean and beat every team except Clarkson. Because of the head-to-head wins and criteria that is pretty equal (Vassar loses out in SOS but does well everywhere else), we can see why Vassar held the #1 spot in the regional rankings until the final week. A second loss to Clarkson in the Liberty League tournament is certainly reason in my mind to give the top spot to them over Vassar. However, I really struggle to drop them any lower than 2nd. Lesson learned? This is probably another example of devaluing the head-to-head result and probably highlights the importance of the SOS (unless you are in the Midwest).

The nice thing about looking at the other RACs is that we start to see a pattern of behavior across all of the regions. This can’t be by accident and, to me, show an influence being exerted by the NCAA committee. I’m not saying this is a bad thing as we should want consistency. The problem is that when it comes to selection, the consistency is thrown out the window and other factors are used. In the end, a gaudy win/loss record and beating teams head-to-head is nice, but they are not the more important factors used by the NCAA. Signature wins against the elite is also not as important as the quantity of wins over ranked teams even if they are the 12th team in the New England Region (something I will look into detail for tomorrow’s post).

As to my personal score card on the decisions listed in this post – St. Olaf was a whoops (No credit), Mount Union should have been ahead of DePauw (I’m right), Whitewater should have been ahead of Eau Claire (I’m right) and Vassar should have been the #2 team (partial credit).

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