Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Engineer Bracketology: Prologue

Welcome to an exciting addition to Without a Peer... Engineer Bracketology. Every week, starting next week until either the end of the ECAC Tournament or until the Engineers are no longer a viable candidate for an at-large bid, we will take a look at the PairWise Rankings (PWR) and find out where the Tute stands (I will refrain from using "RPI" to refer to the Engineers in bracketology to avoid confusion with the Ratings Percentage Index, a key component of PWR).

This is a bit of a primer to introduce you to the concept of Engineer Bracketology. It will be what I refer to as "micro-bracketology," a look at the PWR and the upcoming games as it pertains to a single team. Most national PWR observers, like Jayson Moy at USCHO, simply analyze the PWR and determine the likely makeup of the NCAA field using it. I call that "macro-bracketology." What I do is get into the nitty gritty and tell you what Engineer fans would like to see moving forward to ensure not only an at-large bid, but as high a seed as is possible in the tournament.

First, a discussion on what the PWR actually is. The PWR is comprised of four components, which will be repeatedly referred to using their common abbreviations:

- The Ratings Percentage Index. This is a commonly used computer ranking used by the NCAA to determine post-season participants and rankings in a number of other sports, especially basketball. In hockey, it is a component of the PWR, and is calculated using the team's winning percentage as 25%, the team's opponents' winning percentage as 21%, and the opponents' opponents' winning percentage as the final 54%. If a win actually ends up decreasing the team's RPI due to the opponent being exceptionally weak, that game will be disregarded for purposes of calculating that team's RPI.

TUC - Record against Teams Under Consideration. Teams in the Top 25 of the RPI are teams under consideration for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. These are the teams that are compared against each other in the PWR, and a team's record against these other teams is a comparison criteria. Which teams are or are not "TUCs" is often an important focus of micro-bracketology. Both teams in a given comparison must have at least 10 games against TUCs for this criteria to be used.

COp - Record against Common Opponents. Games against those teams that both sides of a comparison have played against during the season are considered in this comparison. There is no minimum for games played in this criteria. Whichever team has a higher winning percentage against common opponents wins the criteria.

H2H - Head to head. This is the simplest of the four criteria - if the teams have played each other during the season, each team gets one point for every win they picked up. Ties are disregarded in this criteria.

A single comparison might look like this:

State - Tech
.5673 RPI .5787
.6364 TUC .5769
.8000 COp .4167
0 H2H 0

Looking at this hypothetical comparison, Tech has a better RPI than State. That gives Tech one point in the comparison. But State has a better record against other TUCs and has a better record against teams both squads have faced during the season. That gives State one point for TUC, and one point for COp. Since State and Tech have not faced each other this season (or, alternatively, have only tied each other), State wins the comparison 2-1.

But say the teams had played each other, and Tech won. What happens then, when the comparison is a 2-2 tie? Tech would win the comparison because they won the RPI criteria, which is the tie-breaker.

That is one comparison for both of these teams. Each TUC has 24 total comparisons to consider, as they are compared to each of the other 24 TUCs. There are a total of 300 comparisons in any PWR edition. That's what makes micro-bracketology a daunting task - but fortunately we only have to focus on a fraction of those on any given week.

Typically (but not always) the top team in the PWR wins all 24 comparisons with other TUCs. On the flip side, the bottom team in the PWR typically (but not always) loses all 24 comparisons with other TUCs. The team's position in the PWR is determined by the number of comparison wins that they hold.

The PWR are NOT what the NCAA uses directly to determine the field. It is instead a ranking that mimics the process the NCAA does use - and it has never been wrong in determining the makeup of the field.

So that's the PWR in a nutshell. Now, to describe Engineer Bracketology. I'll use as an example the PWR from one year ago - both as an illustration of how this will work, and an illustration of what the PWR means two months out from the selection of the NCAA Tournament. This comes directly from "Husky Bracketology," the exercise in micro-bracketology that I have done for St. Cloud State fans in previous seasons.
1. Denver*
2. Miami*
3. Ferris State
4. Wisconsin
5. Bemidji State*
6. Minnesota-Duluth
7. Michigan State
8. Colorado College
9. North Dakota
10. Vermont
11. St. Cloud State
12. Yale
13. Union*
14. Maine
15. Boston College
16. UMass
17. New Hampshire*
18. UMass-Lowell
19. Alaska
20. Cornell
21. Lake Superior State
22. Northern Michigan
23. Michigan
24. Minnesota State
25. Minnesota

From last week:
In: Yale, Maine
Out: Boston College, UMass

In: Michigan, Minnesota
Out: Notre Dame, Quinnipiac

First off, of the 16 teams that would have been "in" the national tournament as of this PWR analysis, only 10 ended up in the tournament in March. Ferris State, projected as a #1 seed in this analysis, did not make the tournament, though Denver, Miami, and Wisconsin ultimately were #1 seeds. So nothing is guaranteed to anyone. All of the at-large teams were, however, TUCs by this point.

The teams with stars represent the automatic bids. Each league has an automatic bid that goes to its tournament champion - there are only 5 this year due to the demise of the CHA. Since those are exclusively determined on the ice, the team with the best in-conference winning percentage in each conference is assumed to be the team most likely to win the tournament.

The PWR are also the team's seeding in the tournament. PWR 1-4 are #1 seeds, PWR 5-8 are #2 seeds, PWR 9-12 among tourney teams are #3 seeds, and PWR 13-16 among tourney teams are #4 seeds. After listing the PWR, I detail the teams that entered and exited the NCAA field and then the TUC ranks in the past week. Look at that, Boston College was out of the tournament in mid-January. Sucked to be them, I guess.

With 16 teams in the tournament and five automatic bids, that means 11 teams in the tournament are "at-large," gaining bids despite not winning their tournament. Here's how to interpret the positioning in the PWR.

1-11: These teams are in the tournament, regardless of what happens anywhere else and whether they win their conference.
12: This team is almost certainly in the tournament - there would have to be upset tournament winners (teams that would not be in the tournament without the auto-bid) in the WCHA/CCHA/ECAC/Hockey East tournaments for this team to be out.
13: Also most likely in the tournament - upsets in all but one of those conference tournaments would put this team out without an auto-bid.
14: Firmly on the bubble. Three upsets in those tournaments is unlikely, but two is possible, and would put this team out without an auto-bid.
15: In trouble. If there's even one team in those four conferences to gain an "upset" auto-bid, this team is out without an auto-bid of their own.
16: This team is out of the tournament without an auto-bid. Due to the weakness of Atlantic Hockey, its conference champion is pretty much guaranteed to be outside the Top 16 of PWR and thus takes the #16 seed by default, knocking this team out.
17-25: These teams are also out of the tournament without the automatic bid.

OK, so now we know more about how to relate the PWR to determine the field. The next thing we do is predict the brackets. This is the focus of macro-bracketology. This prediction assumes that there are no more games to be played, and the selection is being made right then and there.

Based on the PWR above, these were my projected brackets.
St. Paul
1. Denver
2. Colorado College
3. Vermont
4. RIT

Ft. Wayne
1. Miami
2. Michigan State
3. North Dakota
4. New Hampshire

1. Ferris State
2. Minnesota-Duluth
3. Yale
4. Union

1. Wisconsin
2. Bemidji State
3. St. Cloud State
4. Maine

There are a number of rules that go into bracketing - most notably, that regional hosts must be placed in their own regional, and that there can be no first-round matchups between teams from the same conference unless that conference has 6 or more teams in the tournament (Bemidji State was in the CHA last year). The rest of it can often be an art, mostly focusing on the NCAA's desire to ensure as-brisk-as-possible ticket sales in each of its locations. Generally, however, bracket integrity means the #1 overall seed faces the #16 seed, the #2 overall seed faces the #15 seed, and so on.

These brackets change from week to week. From this projection in January, the only teams that ended up playing where they were listed when March arrived was Vermont in St. Paul and Miami in Ft. Wayne.

This year, the regionals are in Green Bay, Wis. (hosted by Michigan Tech), St. Louis (no one team hosting), Bridgeport, Conn. (hosted by Yale), and Manchester, N.H. (hosted by New Hampshire). As the season progresses, we can sometimes start to get a feel for where a tournament-bound team might be heading for the regionals. The Frozen Four takes place in St. Paul, Minn. at the Xcel Energy Center.

Finally, after analysis of the Engineers' PWR position and key PWR comparisons (frequently including a look at the RPI positions of teams on the Rensselaer schedule), I'll conclude with the "Engineer Cheering Section" - those games coming in the next week around the nation with some potential impact on the team's position in the PWR and which teams fans should be pulling for in those games. Not every game has equal impact, but if there's any perceived impact at all, that game will be listed. In the example edition of "Husky Bracketology," 25 different games were listed in the Cheering Section.

So there you have it - Engineer Bracketology is coming, and now you know what to expect. Watch this space next week for our first edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.