ATN podcast: All about the bracket

Matt Wenger
North Central is a No. 1 seed. Why? Pat and Keith debate.

We know, there’s been a lot of talk about the bracket already, but there are some great questions being raised and although we answer them in the comments, sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle.

In this week’s Around the Nation podcast, Pat and Keith don’t come to a lot of consensus, but there’s certainly a lot of good discussion. And when there’s not consensus, heck, at least you get two opinions.

Some of the lines of questioning:
Why not Wabash? How close was Wabash? The NCAA liaison explains.
Why have regional rankings if you’re not going to follow them?
Why does Wittenberg travel and DePauw get a home game?
Is strength of schedule the only criterion in play for 2010?

And really, there’s much more. It’s worth the hour.

Click the play button below to listen.

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Our final playoff projection

Do we think Coe gets in?

The job of selecting teams was about the same as it was earlier in the week. It didn’t really get easier with Hardin-Simmons losing. And having a UAA winner didn’t help us read the tea leaves in Pool B.

Here’s the deal: Doing a full projection involves emulating the NCAA process from the beginning, all the way through. We have to create our own regional rankings, because it’s not just important to selecting teams, it’s important for seeding them. So Gordon Mann and I, who have been projecting brackets as a team for years in both football and basketball, started with four regional rankings.

Cortland State
Montclair State
Delaware Valley
St. John Fisher
Maine Maritime
Mount Union
North Central (Ill.)
Wheaton (Ill.)
Ohio Northern
Illinois Wesleyan
Mary Hardin-Baylor
Thomas More
Washington & Lee
Louisiana College
St. Thomas
Cal Lutheran
Pacific Lutheran

I decided instead of spending a lot of text explaining who plays whom since the seedings and travel and conference rematches don’t always line up, I would just create a darn bracket. So here, download the projected bracket and see what we’re talking about.

We end up ranking the three NJAC teams straight by strength of schedule, since so much else here is a wash. And we will talk more about this later.

Some things did change this week. Pool B doesn’t — still Wesley, Salisbury, SUNY-Maritime. Chicago was the one left out — we looked at Salisbury’s overall Division III SOS to help guide us and it ended up being .558, ahead of Chicago’s. And Chicago making our regional rankings has more impact down the line.

Pool C: Remember how this works is that the NCAA takes the top remaining team from each region and compares all four together. They pick the best, then replace them on the board with the next team from that region.

Wheaton is first and easiest. Hampden-Sydney next. Rowan takes a little discussion because of its .500 SOS but it has a win against a regionally ranked team — a team No. 1 in its regional rankings, in fact. Ohio Northern had a better SOS (.512) but no win against a regionally ranked team. However, we put ONU in next. It gets dicey here but we add Bethel, which is like Ohio Northern (only loss is to the No. 1 team in its region) with a lower SOS. But the Royals have a much better showing against St. Thomas than ONU did against Mount Union. That’s five of our six Pool C teams.

Here’s the board now, four teams, with record, SOS and results against regionally ranked teams (no common opponents or head-to-head here):

136 Montclair State 9-1 .493 1-1 beat East-2 lost to East-1
15 Wabash 8-1 (8-2 overall) .574 2-1 beat S4 beat N9 lost N5
74 Louisiana College 7-2 (7-3 overall) .516 1-1 lost S2 beat S9
135 Coe 7-1 (9-1 overall) .493 1-1 lost W3 beat W10

We need just one team. Montclair State and Coe look fairly identical here but Montclair’s 1-1 is better than Coe’s 1-1. This doesn’t get us all the way there, but we can eliminate Coe because at least one team is better than Coe here.

Of the two-loss teams (and Louisiana College isn’t even really a two-loss team), we can eliminate Louisiana College. So it’s Montclair State vs. Wabash.

Montclair has the edge in record. Wabash has a huge edge in SOS — I mean, .574 to .493 is significant. And even if you go away from the numbers for a bit and look at who Montclair scheduled out of conference (Westfield State), the schedule doesn’t grade well. Wabash has two wins against regionally ranked opponents — and even if you don’t think Chicago makes the regional rankings, well, Wabash still has a gigantic 47-0 drubbing of DePauw today.

There is no magic formula that tells us what is worth more, or how many points in SOS it takes to overcome a difference in winning percentage. And perhaps this is not what the NCAA will do. But it’s what the NCAA should do.

Playoff projection

Better a little later in the week than never, right? This seemed so simple a few days ago, until I got hung up on balancing the brackets, and trying to give Delaware Valley an appropriate first-round matchup, and trying to figure out what to do with the 10 South teams … etc.

I decided instead of spending a lot of text explaining who plays whom since the seedings and travel and conference rematches don’t always line up, I would just create a darn bracket. So here, download the projected bracket and see what we’re talking about.

And now the concept. In order to do this, you have to project some winners and not necessarily others. We have to consider the worst-case geographic scenario of Maine Maritime beating Endicott for the NEFC title — if Endicott wins, we have a tad more flexibility.

Muhlenberg to the Mount Union bracket is done to create more reasonable matchups in that group of eight. Otherwise, with Maine Maritime basically locked into playing SUNY-Maritime, and Cortland State and Rowan not able to play each other in the first round because they’re in the same conference, it made the first-round matchups too unfair (aka, Rowan at Delaware Valley). Swapping Rowan and Muhlenberg between brackets gives us a little more room to work. Rowan gets the home game it’s supposed to get according to the regional rankings. And the NCAA doesn’t care so much about a rematch of teams that met in non-conference games in the regular season.

I really wanted Benedictine to be playing UW-Whitewater in the first round but couldn’t find a suitable team to move to the St. Thomas bracket in Benedictine’s place. The Indiana teams can’t get to St. Thomas geographically. St. Norbert could go there but I can’t get Hanover to Wartburg, should Hanover win the HCAC on Saturday.

Pool B in our projections:

Pool C, in order of selection:
Ohio Northern

Left on the board:
Illinois Wesleyan, Ursinus, Coe. (Montclair State never gets to the board as Rowan is the last one in.)

Why Rowan instead of Montclair? First things first, of course, the NCAA has them ranked that way. Do I think that’s correct? No. But things aren’t going to get any better for Montclair.

Some reasons (other than politics) as to how Rowan could be ahead of Montclair State at this point in time.

  • In a three-way triangle, sometimes it’s all about “what have you done for me lately” and Montclair is the last to lose.
  • For a committee that cited some really non-standard criteria for choosing W&J over St. Norbert last year, I considered that Montclair played Westfield State out of conference while Rowan played Lycoming. Significant difference.
  • If last quarter of the season is considered … well, see bullet point 1

This could always change around on Saturday night, once the NJAC’s champion is officially crowned. At that point, the NCAA could (should) really consider ranking the other two NJAC teams in the order of their head-to-head contest.

There is more to say, but I’ll have to add in the comments later. Have to move on to other stuff for a little while. Questions, fire away. Hopefully I’ve hit some of the big ones already.