There are a few oddities in this year’s tournament outlook and structure that have been the subject of numerous comments—
- The .500 rule (teams must have a record of at least .500 to get an at-large bid)
- The tie possibility (the NCHC consolation game, unlike all the other tournament games, can end in a tie)
- The consolation game (the NCHC consolation game is now the only one of its kind)
I examined the effects of each of these on the possible scenarios and found that none of them are a very big deal. While each can, of course, result in a different team making the tournament in some situations, none distort the outcomes in particularly unusual or undesirable ways.
The .500 rule will keep one otherwise eligible team out of the tournament in a handful of scenarios, the tie possibility will give its participants the opportunity for an outcome a bit better than a loss (but a bit worse than a win), and the consolation game will give an additional opportunity for some movement to two teams that would be done playing without it.
On the .500 rule
For the first time in recent memory, it’s possible for a team with an under .500 record to be in PWR position for an at-large bid. St Cloud St could lose two games to earn an 18-19-1 record, but still be ranked high enough for an at-large bid.
I ran the scenarios a second time, tweaking the rules to let SCSU into the tournament from that position despite the <.500 record to see how much that rule changed things. While it will clearly be a big deal to the teams affected if it happens, the overall impact is pretty small. Without the .500 requirement, SCSU would make the tournament in about 21% of its win 0 scenarios (which include the possibility of a consolation game tie), compared to 19% with the .500 requirement in place. So, absent that rule, SCSU would make the tournament at-large in about 4% of its two loss scenarios and bump another team. The potential victims of that bump would be other bubble teams, primarily Minnesota, Harvard, Colgate, Mass.-Lowell, and Yale.
On the possibility of a tie in the NCHC consolation game
There is only one game in the remaining conference tournaments that can end in a tie — the NCHC consolation game. Though like any game it could definitely change who makes the tournament, it doesn’t throw a huge wrench into the process. Other than St Cloud St’s .500 situation described above, no team can achieve a different ranking this year due to the existence of the tie than they could achieve without it.
The possibility of a tie has the biggest obvious impact on SCSU, giving them an opportunity to go winless on the weekend on still make the NCAA tournament (with a loss and a tie).
Not surprisingly, each of the other three NCHC teams with a potential for a loss and a tie also fare slightly better in that scenario than they would with two losses—UND can finish #1 more frequently, Miami can finish #7 more frequently, and Denver has significantly more potential to finish #3-6 then the #7 they’d likely finish with two losses.
On the existence of the NCHC consolation game
Similarly, the existence of the NCHC consolation game doesn’t have any unusual effects on the field this year.
By giving an extra game to two teams that have lost, each will have an additional opportunity to either make up some of the lost ground or lose even more ground than if the consolation game weren’t played.
By virtue of being on the bubble, SCSU is again most affected. Without the consolation games, they would advance in a decent share (about 30%) of scenarios in which they lost in the semifinals. Forcing them to play another game after such a loss puts them back in control of their own destiny, facing certain elimination if they lose or a much improved tournament outlook if they win.