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Nov. 4, 2015 — Bracketology 2015

Sometime tomorrow morning around 10 a.m. in Bloomington, Ind., a whistle will blow, a piece of mulberry will make contact with plastic, and the chirping sound of shoes squishing on wet turf will ensue. And thus will begin a multi-ring circus in 10 locations across America.

That circus is the NCAA Division I conference tournament season. Nine tournaments and a winner-take-all regular-season game (which acts as a de facto playoff game) will determine the 10 automatic qualifier (AQ) teams to make the Division I tournament. As a byproduct, these results will have a hand in saying which eight at-large teams are likely to be selected by the NCAA tournament committee on Selection Sunday.

There are many ways we can tackle this, but we’ll employ the usual scientific method. We’ll figure out who is likely to take the 10 AQ slots, then the next eight teams will get the at-large berths. We’ll use the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index (as calculated here by Field Hockey Corner) and Strength of Schedule index, plus we’ll also make judgments on how the teams have performed in their last 10 games coming into the weekend.

We’ll take the nine conference tournaments in alphabetical order:

AMERICA EAST
Favorites: Albany, Stanford
Dark horse: Pacific
How many should get in: 2
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Albany made the Final Four a year ago with great defense and opportunistic finishing. The merger of America East and the Northern Pacific Athletic Conference has made a single coast-to-coast nine-team circuit, but quantity does not necessarily mean quality. If Albany wins the America East tournament, it’s likely that Stanford will get into the field if the Cardinal finish second; But I don’t think the same can be said if Stanford beats Albany in the final, since Albany is eighth in RPI (0.626) and Stanford is tenth (0.609). Any loss would be damaging to a bubble team’s hopes

ATLANTIC-10
Favorites: Richmond, Massachusetts
Dark horse: Davidson
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: The highest-ranked team in RPI from the A-10 is Richmond, which is 24th. Only the champion will make the NCAA Tournament

ATLANTIC COAST
Favorites: Syracuse, North Carolina
Dark horse: Wake Forest
How many should get in: 7
How many will get in: 6
The skinny: Remember when this space called ACC a “superconference” a couple of years ago? Even with the departure of Maryland to the Big Ten, this is the dominant field hockey conference in America, and any of six or seven teams would be a worthy NCAA champion. That being said, there will be some interesting doings this weekend as the teams meet up in the tournament. Wake Forest is on a tear, winning eight of its last 10. One of the two losses, however, was a 6-0 defeat against Syracuse. Louisville (12th in RPI at 0.605) needs a win and perhaps two in order to bump up its postseason resume. The Cardinals are one of seven ACC teams in the top 12 in Ratings Percentage Index

BIG EAST
Favorites: Connecticut, Old Dominion
Dark horse: Temple
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 2
The skinny: Of all the daft seeding decisions you’ve ever seen in sport, how does a conference pit its two highest RPI-rated programs (UConn at No. 6, and Old Dominion at No. 21) against each other in the league semifinal match? Think of it: Temple is 38th and Villanova is 69th, and one of them will make the final from the other side of the bracket. Why do I get the feeling that Connecticut, the two-time defending NCAA champion, is vulnerable to being knocked off by someone this coming weekend, knowing they’re in the field for sure? When you think about it, who played for the Big Ten women’s lacrosse title last spring? Hint: it wasn’t Maryland or Northwestern

BIG TEN
Favorite: Maryland
Dark horse: Northwestern
How many should get in: 3
How many will get in: 2
The skinny: Maryland is in, no matter what it does. Michigan (No. 14 in RPI) and Northwestern (No. 23 in RPI) will do themselves a world of good if they can make it into the final; a Northwestern-Maryland field hockey battle on Friday afternoon could be the single best game of any in the nine conference tournaments

COLONIAL ATHLETIC
Favorites: Delaware, James Madison
Dark horse: Hofstra
How many should get in: 2
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: This is perhaps the most competitive tournament of the lot. The four teams are separated by a mere 5/100ths of a point in RPI ratings; Delaware is 16th in RPI, James Madison is 18th, Hofstra 26th, and Drexel 29th. Regrettably, only one team is likely to make it into the NCAA Tournament

METRO ATLANTIC
Favorite: Rider
Dark horse: Fairfield
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: The highest-rated team in RPI is Rider University at 48th; only the tournament champion will make it into the NCAA field

MID-AMERICAN
Favorite: Miami
Dark horse: Kent State
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Will Miami be this year’s feel-good story? Head coach Inako Puzo has attracted athletes from Spain and Catalonia to help his team to the No. 22 ranked team in RPI. That being said, only the champion will make the field

PATRIOT LEAGUE
Favorite: Boston University
Dark horse: Lafayette
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Boston University feels like it is in the same position as Miami; even though it is in a good position RPI-wise, the Terriers (No. 15 in RPI) are likely going to have to win out in order to make the NCAA Tournament field.

There is one more automatic qualifier up for grabs on Saturday. That game is in the Ivy League, where Princeton and Penn will have a high-noon shootout on the banks of the Schuylkill River to determine the Ivy regular-season champion. Princeton has a one-game lead on Penn with just this game remaining for each team. If the Tigers win, they’re in, having run the table with a 7-0 league mark. If the Quakers win, they would be tied with Princeton at the top of the league table, and will make the NCAA Tournament on head-to-head record. This scenario makes Saturday’s match, in effect, a one-game playoff.

So, with 10 AQs out of the way, there will be eight at-large bids into the tournament field. I believe that five of these are firmly in the hands of the ACC, and there will be one each doled out to the Big Ten, the Big East, and perhaps America East.

I emphasize the word “perhaps,” because there is an independent team in the mix of candidates. Liberty University, which made shockwaves with its near-upset of North Carolina a year ago, is currently at 13th in Ratings Percentage Index and was ranked 10th in the Oct. 27th coaches’ poll.

Here’s what that means in somewhat simplified terms. If the tournament began today, the largest number of possible conference champions ranked ahead of Liberty in RPI is five. That would mean that Liberty would be the eighth-best team in RPI ratings, at 0.599. But if you look at the RPI ratings on Field Hockey Corner as of Nov. 2, Liberty and Michigan are tied at 0.599.

Liberty has one more opportunity to improve its RPI, as its last regular-season match is this weekend against Appalachian State. On the other hand, Michigan and teams like Louisville (0.605), Princeton (0.607), and Stanford (0.609) will have at least one more game to play each.

So, go out, have fun at the games, and watch the RPI ratings change on Field Hockey Corner. They’ll determine those last two or three teams to get into the field on Selection Sunday.

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