How many teams will each conference put in the playoffs? (2016 edition)

This time of year always brings speculation about which teams are positioned for the NCAA tournament, which sometimes leads to discussions about each conference’s performance.

Looking at how many teams each conference has in the top 16 in PWR gives an interesting benchmark of performance to date. But, that occasionally raises questions of how the 2nd half schedules might reshape that field. Because we already know the rest of the regular season schedule, it’s pretty straightforward to simulate the rest of the regular season (assuming teams will continue to perform as they have to date) to see how each conference is likely to fare at the end of the regular season.

How many teams will each conference put in the playoffs?

Likelihood of each conference’s number of teams in the top 14 PWR at the end of the regular season
0 1 2 3 4 5
Atlantic Hockey 90% 10%
Big Ten 17% 70% 13%
ECAC 1% 19% 68% 12%
Hockey East 6% 51% 43%
NCHC 1% 44% 51% 5%
WCHA 96% 4%

Shaded cells represent the number of teams each conference currently has in the top 14. The Big Ten is most likely to make a gain (not surprisingly, since they hold positions 15 and 16), while Hockey East and the NCHC are  most likely to take a loss (holding positions 12 & 13, and 14, respectively).

How is each conference doing compared to its historical performance?

Looking back at 2014’s How many teams will each conference put in the playoffs?, ExileOnDaytonStreet on the USCHO forum had counted each conference’s current members’ average tournament appearances per year over the previous ten years:

Number of members that made that tournament per year
Atlantic Hockey 1.3
Big Ten 3
ECAC 2.3
Hockey East 4.1
NCHC 4.3

Compared to their members’ historical performances–

  • Atlantic Hockey is on track, likely to just get its autobid.
  • The Big Ten continues to underperform, as it has since its inception. Of course, some of that can be attributed to its historically strong members now having to play each other instead of other teams.
  • ECAC is dramatically outperforming, with 4 at-large teams the most likely outcome based on performance to date.
  • Hockey East is right on track, likely getting 4-5 teams in at-large.
  • The NCHC is on-track to slightly behind, with 4 most likely but 3 much more likely than 5.
  • The WCHA, like Atlantic Hockey, is on track and likely to just get its autobid.

Keep in mind that the historical numbers are total tournament participants, whereas for forecasting purposes we just look at top 14 in PWR.

Is inter-conference play the key?

People sometimes speculate that inter-conference play is the key to a good PWR rating (though my own attempts to test that hypothesis have proven inconclusive at best).

Here is each conference’s current non-conference record (courtesy of CHN).

Inter-conference records (from CHN)
Atlantic Hockey .250
Big Ten .494
ECAC .606
Hockey East .545
NCHC .628
WCHA .458

The conferences likely to send the most teams to the tournament are indeed those with the best inter-conference records.


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.