Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Succeed in the ECAC, By The Numbers

Well, the season's underway now. Time to get the stats out.

It helps to have some benchmarks for how many points a team needs to accrue in order to reach the highest levels of accomplishment.

There are three levels of success, really, in the regular season. On the men's side, it's a matter of winning the regular season title, earning a first round bye, and earning home ice in the first round. For the women, it's a regular season title, home ice in the quarterfinals, and simply making the playoffs at all. For both, those benchmarks lie in 1st place, 4th place, and 8th place respectively.

History tells us about what we're looking for. Each season "requires" a different number of points, depending on how well things go. Let's take a look at how we come to those totals.

For instance, last year, there was a separation between the first-round bye and the home ice in the first round positions:

4. Union - 24 points
5. Dartmouth - 22 points

Therefore, it could be said that in order to achieve a first-round bye last season, a team needed to reach 23 points, as the Dutchmen still would have held down 4th place with one less point than they earned.

Compare, also the way the 2011-12 season ended for the RPI women:

7. Princeton - 22 points
8. Brown - 14 points
9. RPI - 14 points

The teams finished tied for 8th, but Brown won the tiebreaker and thus entered the playoffs, while RPI's season ended. Since tiebreakers  are an unknown factor for this exercise, we can say that a team required 15 points to earn a playoff berth, even though Brown earned one with 14 points. It would be inaccurate to say that 14 points earned a berth, since RPI did not earn one with that many points.

Those are individual examples. Here's a look at what's been required for 1st, 4th, and 8th since the 2000-01 season for the men - a date which correlates to the farthest back one can go to find each team playing a full 22-game schedule (thanks to the Vermont hazing scandal during the 1999-2000 season). The current playoff structure didn't exist in 2001 or 2002, but we can still use those seasons in our data set.

Mean averages are rounded up to the nearest point, since you can't earn fractions of a point.

Regular season championship: 30-29-36-30-33-31-31-29-30-32-36-31-28
Range: 28-36
Mean: 32 points - .727 winning percentage
Median: 31 - .705
Mode: 30/31 -  .682/.705

So history tells us that in order to claim the "Cleary Cup," for whatever that's worth, you need somewhere between 28 points (Quinnipiac last season) and 36 points (Cornell in 2003, Union in 2011). However, in most cases we're looking at about 31 or 32 points, correlating to a little bit less than 75% of the available points in a given season.

Top 4: 25-24-25-28-29-26-25-26-25-24-25-24-23
Range: 23-29
Mean: 26 - .591
Median: 25 - .568
Mode: 25 - .568

For home ice, it's pretty clear that a team needs to be very solidly over .500 at the very least, although the 23 points required by Union last season was the lowest since Brown required only 22 (a perfect .500 record) in 1998 to reach the top four.

Top 8: 19-21-18-19-17-18-18-17-21-18-19-20-20
Range: 17-21
Mean: 19 - .432
Median: 19 - .432
Mode: 18 - .409

And, as we can see, the benchmark for home ice in the playoffs is not terribly high at all. As a point of reference, Quinnipiac cleared last year's bench mark in early January, although going 10-0-0 to start the league season will have you aimed in the right direction pretty much any year.

For the women, we can only go back to the 2006-07 season, when the Engineers joined the conference and gave it the makeup it has today with 12 teams. In women's hockey, finishing first overall has a bit more meaning, as it gives you the opportunity to host the championship game on your home ice.

Regular season championship: 36-38-34-32-32-36-37
Range: 32-38
Mean: 35 - .795
Median: 36 - .818
Mode: 32/36 - .727/.795

Right away, we see a significant difference in the number of points that have been required over the years in the women's ECAC, which has less overall parity than the men's league. In 2008, St. Lawrence had to settle for second place despite taking 84% of the possible points on the year due to Harvard's perfect 22-0-0 ECAC record.

Home ice: 30-26-28-27-26-31-29
Range: 26-31
Mean: 29 - .659
Median: 28 - .636
Mode: 26 - .591

Interestingly, a year after Cornell required just 32 points to claim the top spot in the ECAC, Dartmouth and St. Lawrence tied for 4th with 30 points, meaning it took 31 just to have home ice in the quarterfinals.

Playoff spot: 14-17-18-20-19-15-15
Range: 14-20
Mean: 17 - .386
Median: 17 - .386
Mode: 15 - .341

This is the statistic RPI is more used to needing to look at, and they've reached the playoffs in five of their seven Division I ECAC seasons.

How are the teams looking now? Well, it's still early and the sample size is very small, but if the teams were to carry on their current pace at .500, it's a playoff berth for the women and home ice in the first round for the men, almost certainly.

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