A first look at the at-large tournament cutlines

A couple of weeks ago in When to start looking at PWR (revisited), I noted that the PWR as of early January does give us some idea as to which teams might make the tournament at large. I noted that any top team can still fall out of contention, though that it takes a notable collapse for the top few. More interestingly, I observed that its unusual (though definitely possible) for a team rated much lower than 20 to climb into an at-large bid.

To see how those general historical observations will hold up this season, I ran simulations for the rest of the regular season and generated some statistics about where teams are likely to finish based on their performance over their remaining games. (Specific details about the simulations are available in the methodology section at the end).

Before we jump into the data, I want to warn that starting simulations this far out makes it pretty likely that some of the 1% events will happen. Remember that PWR cares how each team’s opponents perform, so the analysis for each team implicitly assumes that all other teams will continue to perform as they have to date. As teams’ fortunes change in the 2nd half of the season, it will affect not only their own PWR but also their opponents’. With about 450 games remaining, we should see a lot of outcomes we didn’t expect.

Is anyone a lock for the tournament?


Not completely. Even #1 Harvard could slip to the bubble if it wins only 6-7 of its remaining 14 games. That’s not particularly likely (the odd shape of the “win 6” curve and complete absence of the “win 4” curve are because those scenarios occurred so infrequently in the simulations).

Who can still make the tournament at-large with a good regular season performance?


From #1 Harvard (as described above) down to about #27 Northern Michigan have realistic scenarios for at-large bids. It would take a good run for Northern Michigan to climb into an at-large bid; they would need at least 12 wins in their remaining 16 games to stand a good chance.



From #28 Notre Dame to #37 Bemidji State, it appears possible to make the tournament at-large, but only with an amazing run (e.g. one or two losses at the most). These teams aren’t mathematically eliminated, but it’s a decent guess that being below #28 today means success in a conference tournament will be required for an NCAA tournament bid.


#38 New Hampshire and below look like the only path to the NCAA tournament is through the conference tournaments.


Forecasts include the results of games played through Sunday of this week, unless otherwise noted.

Each forecast is based on at least one million monte carlo simulations of the games in the described period. For each simulation, the PairWise Ranking (PWR) is calculated and the results tallied. The probabilities presented in the forecasts are the share of simulations in which a particular outcome occurred.

The outcome of each game in each simulation is determined by random draw, with the probability of victory for each team set by their relative KRACH ratings. So, if the simulation set included a contest between team A with KRACH 300 and team B with KRACH 100, team A will win the game in very close to 75% of the simulations. I don’t simulate ties or home ice advantage.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *