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Nov. 2, 2016 — Bracketology 2016

Tomorrow at 10 a.m. in College Park, Md., a whistle will blow, allowing a plastic ball to propelled with purpose across the wet turf of The Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex at the University of Maryland. With that whistle, the NCAA Division I conference tournament season will begin.

Between tomorrow morning and Sunday afternoon, nine conferences select their postseason champions and will send their automatic qualifiers (AQs) to join Harvard, the Ivy League regular-season champion, in the 18-team Division I bracket.

As usual, we thank FieldHockeyCorner.com for their calculations of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a formula which takes into account a team’s winning percentage, the winning percentage of its opponents, and the winning percentage of its opponents’ opponents. Here’s a look at the nine tournaments to be played the balance of the week:

AMERICA EAST
Favorites: Albany, Stanford
Dark horse: Maine
How many should get in: 2
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: America East is learning a harsh reality this fall. Despite the quality of the teams in the upper echelons of the East and West divisions, it’s likely that only the champion of the tournament will make it into the NCAA Tournament, given the fact that the number of available postseason berths is now 18 instead of 19

ATLANTIC-10
Favorite:
Massachusetts
Dark horse: St. Joseph’s
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: The highest-ranked team in ratings percentage index (RPI) from the A-10 is St. Joseph’s, which is 19th. That’s only one slot above Massachusetts. I believe UMass is the favorite here because the Minutewomen played Connecticut tough earlier this season

ATLANTIC COAST
Favorites: Syracuse, Duke
Dark horse: Boston College
How many should get in: 6
How many will get in: 6
The skinny: Until someone else can prove otherwise, the ACC is still the “superconference” of college field hockey. Six teams — Syracuse, Duke, Boston College, Louisville, North Carolina, and Virginia — are in the Top 10 in RPI, and I believe all six will make the field no matter what they do. It’s more than likely that one of these six will win the tournament, leaving the other five for at-large bids

BIG EAST
Favorite: Connecticut
Dark horse: Liberty
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: The only way that more than one Big East team will get into the NCAA Tournament is if UConn loses. The next-highest team in RPI to No. 4 Connecticut is No. 30 Liberty, which is 7-9 on the season and needs two wins in order to be eligible as an at-large team

BIG TEN
Favorite: Maryland, Penn State
Dark horse: Iowa
How many should get in: 4
How many will get in: 3
The skinny: The Big Ten has five teams in the top 17 in Ratings Percentage Index. Though Maryland and Penn State are likely in no matter what they do the other three (Northwestern, Iowa, and Michigan) can do themselves a world of good if they can win their way to the final

COLONIAL ATHLETIC
Favorite: Delaware
Dark horse: William & Mary
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Delaware, which is eighth in RPI rankings, is in no matter what it does. Like in the the Big East, there is a gulf in class between the top seed and the rest of the field, so it is hard to envision someone else with the Colonial’s AQ berth

METRO ATLANTIC
Favorite: Monmouth
Dark horse: Fairfield
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: The highest-rated team in RPI is Monmouth University at 24th; only the tournament champion will make it into the NCAA field, and it would be an upset and a half if one of the other three make it into the field

MID-AMERICAN
Favorite: Kent State
Dark horse: Ball State
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Kent State is the highest-ranked RPI team (29th) in the Mid-American Conference field, so only the champion will make the NCAA field

PATRIOT LEAGUE
Favorite: Boston University
Dark horse: American
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Boston University is in a pretty good position RPI-wise, as the Terriers are No. 13 in RPI. But there is a pretty good gap between B.U. and American University (24th), meaning that it is more than likely that only the Patriot League champ will get into the NCAA Tournament

So, let’s try to figure out what is going to happen with automatic qualifiers. In past years, the six conferences whose champions were assigned to the three NCAA Play-In Games were predetermined. But the rubrics have changed: the four AQs with the lowest RPIs are going to be assigned to two Play-In Games.

This is where Harvard comes in. As Ivy League champs, the Crimson are already in the tournament. Their RPI is 15th (0.590).

There are only three AQs which are pretty much guaranteed to be lower than Harvard’s — the winners of the Atlantic-10, the Mid-American Conference, and the Metro Atlantic, because their highest-ranked teams are lower than 18th. Harvard has to hope is that a fourth team, one with a lower RPI than 0.590, wins an AQ, and, at the same time, doesn’t manage to bolster its RPI rating above Harvard’s (which could, frankly, happen).

Over the next few days, we’ll give you a sense of what is going on in the critical area of Division I when it comes to RPI ratings. We’ll focus solely on RPI because, from past history, the Division I field hockey committee adheres very closely to the RPI when it comes to choosing at-large teams. There are other criteria that are supposed to be used, such as key wins and losses throughout the season as well as how a team does in the last 10 games of the season.

Here’s a chart of the “critical” area with RPI calculations as of 1 p.m. yesterday.

Team RPI
10 Boston College 0.618
11 Michigan 0.597
11 Boston University 0.597
11 Princeton 0.597
14 Stanford
0.594
15 Harvard 0.590
16 Iowa 0.581
17 Northwestern 0.576
18 Albany 0.575

Let’s point out a couple of things about this chart. Harvard is listed in green because it has qualified for the NCAA Tournament, as Ivy League champions.

Note also the three-way tie for 11th place between the Big Ten’s Michigan, the Patriot League’s Boston University, and the Ivy League’s Princeton. Princeton has only one chance to improve its RPI, and would need to beat Penn this weekend to have any hope of making it as an at-large team. Michigan is likely in the NCAA Tournament with a win over Michigan State tomorrow. Boston University, I think, needs to win the Patriot League outright to make the tournament. I believe the Terriers’ chances are on a knife edge.

Stay tuned. We’ll have more updates from now until Sunday afternoon.

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