Looking Back: Would Michigan Tech have made the 2016 NCAAs?

In light of everything with the new WCHA playoff system, I had a lingering question: What effect would the semifinal rules have had on Michigan Tech’s chances of making the NCAAs as an at-large team?

Luckily, I knew the guy to ask: Tim Braun of TechHockeyGuide.com.  His answer:

Michigan Tech would still need to win the Title to get in…even sweeping FSU at home and losing to MSU in Houghton would have MTU first team out.

[T]hey’d pickup almost 40 RPI points, enough to pass Cornell, but not UMD…that would get them to 0.5398 (UMD was up at 0.5440).

The new, truly-insular schedule for 2016-17 will make it hard for WCHA teams to make the NCAAs.  WCHA teams play just 32% of their non-conference games at home this season (39% if you count the Alaska tournaments) per UAHHockey.com’s Michael Napier.  It’s no wonder that the WCHA is looking to reduce the number of league games to give member schools more opportunities to play out-of-conference.  The WCHA’s woeful non-conference totals in 2015-16 — tabulated by Troy Mills of the Beaver Hockey Pond — tells the sad tale of woe:

The WCHA non-conference schedule is complete and the league ended up with a record of 27-36-9.

-5 against Hockey East (3-2-0)
-4 against Atlantic Hockey (3-0-1)
-26 against the NCHC (4-20-2)
-24 against the Big10 (10-9-5)
-7 against the ECAC (4-2-1)
-6 against Arizona State (3-3-0)

It’s the NCHC play that killed the league.  Four teams from the Nacho made the NCAAs, and the results weren’t pretty:

  • UAH went 0-2-0 against eventual national champion North Dakota, although one of those games was 1-0, and split with Colorado College.
  • UAA lost to St. Cloud.
  • UAF also lost to St. Cloud.
  • BSU went 2-0-0 against Duluth, 0-1-1 against North Dakota, and lost to St. Cloud.
  • BGSU lost two games each to Miami and Western Michigan, a fact that probably rankles our friends at BGSUHockey.com.
  • FSU went 0-1-1 against Western.
  • LSSU lost to North Dakota, and they sadly got swept at home by newbie Arizona State.
  • MTU didn’t play any NCHC teams, and their big regrets are in conference play.
  • MSU lost three games to St. Cloud and two to Nebraska-Omaha.
  • NMU split with Duluth.

One way to consider the new playoff structure — which I like a lot! — is that playing two or three semifinal games will lower the chance of upsets.  While that lowers the probability of hurting a league team in PWR — again, it kept Tech out in 2016 — Ferris State made the 2014 NCAA field as an at-large despite losing the Broadmoor to Minnesota State.

I hope to have answers on the probabilities for the 2016 semifinals and final game in the next week or so.  But there’s also …

[My thanks to jsmithe for correcting my oversight of LSSU playing NoDak early in the season.]

Looking Back: 2016 WCHA First-Round Probabilities

I never did do first-round predictions this year, in part because I ran out of time and in part because I was frustrated with my toolset.  I’ve got a good start on a new toolset, and so now I want to look back at the 2016 first round in light of the new WCHA playoff system in place for 2017, 2018, and 2019.

You’ll remember that I worked from the final 2015-16 BELOW to do my 2016 Final Five predictions.  I took this as the basis for these first-round predictions for my Python-based tool (coming this offseason to a Web browser near you).  I came out with the following after 1,000,000 trials of the tool:

Quarterfinal SeriesHome SweepHome in 3Road in 3Road Sweep
MTU v UAF44.09%27.70%15.65%12.56%
MSU v LSSU39.75%27.14%17.85%15.26%
BGSU v BSU31.30%25.29%21.62%21.79%
FSU v NMU28.18%24.30%22.89%24.63%

I want to highlight something: the chances that Northern and Bemidji would sweep their series are higher than merely winning in three games.  That may seem counter-intuitive, but it fits BELOW’s recency model.

As an example, let’s take Bowling Green and Bemidji State.

BG’s BELOW: 1625

BSU’s BELOW: 1556 (4th in the league despite them being the 6th seed)

Expected Value in the first game for BG to win: 64% (you can verify this if you like; I use a K of 40)

So BG would be expected to win 64% of the time, and if they win, they’d pick up 14 BELOW points, taking them to 1670 and dropping Bemidji to 1542.  In their next game, they’d be picked to win 68% of the time.

But if Bemidji wins game 1 of the series — which they did — BG loses 26 points to drop to 1630, while Bemidji jumps to 1582.  Now the Falcons have to win twice, but their expected winning percentage is just 58%.  Obviously they did go on and win on Saturday and Sunday, but this BELOW-based probability system gives the Beavers credit for winning that first night and narrowing the gap between the two teams.

My next step will be to  simulate the semifinal round, which will be interesting since my loops and conditional statements all have to take into account that the semifinals are re-seeded.  Because order and number of games matters for the BELOW calculations, accuracy demands that I treat each of these as individual trials: games within the series, then setting the new series, then setting the championship.

If you’re curious as to what the percentages for all 16 combinations are, here you go:

Screenshot 2016-05-18 09.25.46

You can see that it was pretty likely that the top two seeds would advance and a strong probability that the top three seeds would.  4/5 was a crap shoot, with the teams about 20 points apart in BELOW (which is pretty insignificant).  The result we got, the top seeds sweeping out, happened only one time in seven after a million trials of the quarterfinals.

The New WCHA Playoffs and WCHA Championship

The WCHA announced on Tuesday that they will move to a new on-campus playoff/tournament solution to determine the postseason champion.  The quarterfinals and semifinals will be best-of-three, hosted by the better seeds at each round.  The final game for the Broadmoor Trophy and the league’s automatic qualifier will be hosted by the highest remaining seed on the final weekend prior to NCAA play.

The turn from playoff to tournament at the end is a little interesting, but it makes sense.  A team playing best-of-three two weekends in a row could easily play seven postseason games in 15 days and be at 40+ games before the NCAAs roll around.  That’s a pretty tough task, especially considering that everyone will play games the final two regular season weekends, putting the toll at 11 games in the final month of competition.

That said, the single-game championship feels like a bit of a miss for the league.  I am aware that this comes because league members are keeping at 28 conference games, which means that the league’s regular season will always run to the second weekend in March.  WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson said on Tuesday that the league will go to 26 or maybe even 24 games in 2017-18.  Keeping the travel down should a #5 or lower seed make the finale is a priority.

I have this idea in my head that I’ll run probabilities for a re-run of the 2016 postseason under the new format.  For example, what are the vanishingly small chances that Lake Superior would’ve hosted Alaska for a single-game championship?  I’d put that at 0.05% or less.  Similarly, what are the chances that Ferris State would’ve won a best-of-three with Michigan Tech and then won a one-game playoff at either Mankato or Bowling Green?  Remember that the first round went chalk this year, and Ferris State’s chances of winning the Broadmoor at the Final Five were just 12%.  It’s an interesting thought exercise and will be a good use of my in-progress tool.

I’m in favor of the changes on the whole.  The Final Five concept was dead, and this was an admission of that fact.  It’s an exciting new concept for a new WCHA, and I welcome the change.

2016 Offseason Conditioning Workouts, Post #1

I was digging through the site for something completely unrelated the other day when I came across Using KRACH, recency, and goal differential for next season and realized that I have, essentially, what I wanted then in BELOW now.  Let me talk about that a little.

  1. Using KRACH wasn’t an easy task.  I never did finish that math major, so I don’t have a great handle on building an algorithm that uses a Bradley-Terry method.  Before you glaze over on me: essentially, B-T methods note that not everyone plays everyone (or more appropriately that all network nodes have interactions with all other network nodes).  An Elo-based algorithm isn’t bound (as much) by that, although it certainly works better when all opponents have played each other.  A hockey-wide Elo algorithm may not make sense.
  2. An Elo-based algorithm has an eye for recency.  Alabama-Huntsville’s end-of-season results with Minnesota State and Bowling Green may have indicated that those two road teams were not as strong as BELOW would have thought them to be (or, alternately, that UAH wasn’t as bad as they appeared to be).  The top KRACH of the 2015-16 season was Minnesota State back in early November  (1744), but it’s Michigan Tech’s strong run to the end that shows the value of recency.  A “big win” back in the pack doesn’t help you much in the long run — ask Ferris State, which got above 1500 (where they never fell below again) with that 7-4 upset of the Mavs, but their more recent work in pulling into the home ice tussle was mediocre, going 1-3-0 down the stretch.  BELOW responded, but … single-game elimination is still a crap shoot, and I had Ferris State winning the Broadmoor 41.5% of the time on the morning of the final, a far sight better than the 12% overall shot I gave them to win the Final 4ive.
  3. I covered goal differential back in January, and my thoughts there still stand.  I’m going to look at modeling 2+ goal differentials by looking at empty-net goals (and all removing all of them), but I don’t think that we can ignore three-goal margins completely.  Say what you will about the 2-2 (OT) WCHA in 2015-16, but there were 42 WCHA games scored by three or more goals.

Essentially, BELOW is what I was looking for a year ago (and two years ago when I wrote this post).  I’m about 25% of the way to a prototype for making model runs.  I hope to have it available for the start of the season.