Tag Archives: NCAA tournament

A few top teams are starting to look like locks for NCAA tournament

For the first time this season, the top PWR teams are starting to look like locks for the NCAA hockey tournament. Aside from current PWR ranking, the biggest determinant in how possible it is for a top team to fall out of contention is how many games it has remaining (because when looking for the worst case, each is a potential loss). Some teams are down to 4 regular season games remaining while others have as many as 8 (plus up to 2 conference tournament losses, in the worst case, for most teams).

While it’s tough to imagine #1 Quinnipiac or #2 St Cloud St losing out, including a pair in the conference tournament, even that probably wouldn’t be enough to bump them (dependent on how many conferences’ tournament champions come from outside the top of the PWR).

quinnipiac scsu

While #3 North Dakota is mathematically vulnerable, getting swept 4 more weekends (including into the conference tournament) seems unlikely.


With only 4 games remaining, #4 Boston College and #5 Providence are near locks (again, dependent on how many conferences’ tournament champions come from outside the top of the PWR).

bc providence

#6 Michigan is the highest ranked team with a significant chance of falling to the bubble, largely by virtue of having more games remaining than any other similarly ranked team.


Despite a brutal schedule of series against #5 Providence and #11 Boston University, #7 Notre Dame won’t fall much with only 4 regular season games remaining. But, 11-12 going into the conference tournament would leave the Irish vulnerable to being excluded with a poor performance.


With 6 regular season games remaining for each, it’s too early to call #8 Denver and #9 Nebraska-Omaha safe. It would take a slump for either to miss the NCAA tournament, but they do play each other head-to-head and the Mavericks have a particularly brutal schedule (#8 Denver, #3 North Dakota, and #2 St Cloud).

denver uno

What teams need to do to advance

Looking back at Saturday – what’s still possible, 11 teams are already a lock for the 16 team tournament.

The winner of Atlantic Hockey will definitely take a spot, leaving 4 spots for other teams

The winners of NCHC and WCHA are guaranteed to come from among the 11, so have no additional effect on number of slots.

Only Hockey East can go to a team that is already guaranteed a spot, making the Boston University-Mass.-Lowell game the most important game for most teams hoping to make it at large. If Mass.-Lowell wins, they take another spot, leaving only 3. If BU wins, there are still 4.

Finally, the Big Ten and ECAC tournaments each contain one team that can only advance by winning the tournament and one team that can make it at-large, so they will effectively each be taking a spot, leaving just 1-2.

What each at-large team needs

The bubble team scenarios are all pretty complex given the questions about how many slots will be available for at-large teams

Minnesota’s slim risk comes from losing and having their PWR fall as low as #15. Because Minnesota losing would involve Michigan winning the Big Ten and thus taking another slot, #15 in the PWR would not make it. To avoid that, if they lose, Minnesota would need any of Harvard, Boston University, or St Cloud State to win. If all of them lose, then Minnesota makes it only about 58% of the remaining scenarios, dependent on weird combinations of the outcomes of UND/Denver, Mich Tech/Mankato, and RIT/Mercyhurst.

Bowling Green’s slim opportunity comes from climbing to #15 and having that spot get an at-large bid. So, no low ranked teams can win their conference tournaments and steal a spot, meaning BG needs wins from Minnesota, Harvard, and Boston University. They also needs Michigan Tech to beat Mankato, and some specific combinations of RIT/Mercyhurst, UND/Denver, and Miami/SCSU outcomes.

Yale’s opportunity has gotten a bit larger. They can climb a little higher than BG, as high as #13-14 in PWR, so have a more opportunities even if lower ranked teams win conference tournaments. They seem to need Harvard and Boston University to win. If those two came through, Yale would advance in about 90% of remaining scenarios. If Mankato won, they would advance; if Mich Tech won, they would need more help. A Mich Tech and Denver win seems to get them in, while a Mich Tech and North Dakota win would leave them still needing help. A Mich Tech, North Dakota, and RIT win seems to get them in, while a Mich Tech, North Dakota, and Mercyhurst win leaves them needing a little more help. A Mich Tech, North Dakota, Mercyhurst, St Cloud St, and Michigan win would get them in.

Providence is a quagmire of all the leftovers from the above. Sorry for mailing it in on this one, but the single biggest factor is Minnesota winning which jumps them from 48% to 93% of remaining scenarios. Beyond that, it’s all weird combinations.

Friday morning’s PWR headlines today

There are two Big Ten games today, so while people will be poring over PWR tables and running simulations tonight, I’ll predict their headlines now:

[OSU or Penn St] and [Michigan or UW] advance in first round of Big Ten tournament, knocking [Penn St or OSU] and [UW or Michigan] out of NCAA contention. Share of remaining scenarios in which Minnesota advances with one win [cut in half/double].

That is pretty much it. The primary tournament effects appear to be that the teams that lose are eliminated, which you probably already knew. The possibilities of other teams advancing in certain scenarios will shift a few percentage points here and there, with the only significant shift being Minnesota’s chance of advancing with 1 win going from 35% as of now to 50-55% if Michigan wins or 16-18% if Wisconsin wins.

No teams other than those playing today seem to have any potential scenarios closed off as a result of today’s action.

Unlikely scenarios and how they might happen

How Yale could make the NCAA tournament

Here’s an example: http://goo.gl/VukVIh

The keys are:

  • A large number of conference tournaments being won by top teams. In this case 4 conference tournaments go to top teams so the top 14 in PWR will make the NCAA tournament.
  • Enough teams lose for Yale to climb to #14. In this case Quinnipiac, Bowling Green, Colgate, Minnesota, and Mass.-Lowell all fall below Yale. Passing five instead of four is needed to allow Vermont to pass Yale so it can absorb the autobid.

That set of conditions come together in only about 4% of scenarios to get Yale in.

How Boston College could miss the NCAA tournament

Here’s an example: http://goo.gl/lkricG

The keys are:

  • A large number of conference tournaments won by low ranked teams to take up more slots. In this example, all but 2 conference tournaments go to lower ranked teams so only the top 12 in PWR will make the NCAA tournament.
  • Move idle BC’s PWR down as much as possible. In this case, BC falls from #9 to #13 by losing the comparison to Bowling Green, St Cloud, and Colgate, to fall from 49 comparisons won to 46 (see BC’s PWR). It does so on a combination of their RPIs rising just a hair and a BC’s falling just a hair.
  • The intersection between the above two is what makes this scenario very unlikely — teams that pass BC must do so without winning the conference tournament so lower ranked teams can still take up spots. Looking back at all the possibilities, only a small number of teams have the potential to climb to #12 or higher without winning their conference tournaments. In this case, St Cloud St and Bowling Green are able to flip their comparisons with BC without too much success because they’re already so close in RPI to BC.

That set of conditions come together in only about .8% of scenarios to keep Boston College out.

How St Cloud St could make the NCAA tournament without any more wins

Here’s an example: http://goo.gl/fVsULS

The keys are:

  • As discussed in Odds and Ends, SCSU is perilously close to a .500 record so must take advantage of the possibility of a tie in the NCHC consolation game to end up with exactly a .500 record without winning another game.
  • Have only 3 conference tournaments go to lower ranked teams so #13 makes the NCAA tournament.

That set of conditions come together in about 40% of the scenarios in which SCSU loses the semifinal but goes on to tie in the consolation game.

How Hockey East could send five teams to the NCAA tournament

Here’s an example: http://goo.gl/n0L3on

The keys are:

  • In addition to BU (which makes it for sure), we need four of Mass.-Lowell, Vermont, Boston College, Providence, and New Hampshire.
  • It’s easy to get BC and idle Providence highly ranked (that’s two).
  • Because Vermont and Mass.-Lowell are long shots who play each other, we can really only get one highly ranked (one more).
  • Give New Hampshire the conference championship (outbid for one more), but also give 3 conference championships to highly ranked teams so the HE teams we positioned in 11-13 all make it.

That set of conditions come together in about .3% of scenarios to get 5 Hockey East teams in.

How Hockey East could be limited to only two teams in the NCAA tournament

Here’s an example: http://goo.gl/JxVA6l

The keys are:

  • Because Boston University is going to make the tournament anyway, the conference championship either needs to go to BU or another team that’s going to make it at-large.
  • BC is exceptionally hard to push out (see above), so instead preventing any of Mass.-Lowell, Providence, or Vermont from climbing is easier. Vermont is coming from far enough behind that despite a first round win, it’s easy to keep their PWR low with wins by neighbors Harvard, Bowling Green, and St Cloud St.
  • Finally, enough conference tournaments (in this scenario, 3) go to low ranked teams to keep out any remaining Hockey East teams on the bubble.

Those factors come together to limit Hockey East to two NCAA bids in only about 5% of scenarios.

How the ECAC could send three teams to the NCAA tournament

Here’s an example: http://goo.gl/dp9e7S

The keys are:

  • Colgate, Harvard, and Quinnipiac are all on the bubble. But, because Harvard plays Quinnipiac in the first round, the winner of which plays the winner of St. Lawrence vs. Colgate, it’s really hard to get all three in. Both Harvard and Colgate are long shots, so in this scenario we sacrifice one to get the other in, sending Harvard all the way to the championship.
  • Advancing Harvard damaged Quinnipiac, so we then need to make sure as many conference tournaments as possible go to top teams. In this scenario, that’s 4, allowing #14 Quinnipiac in at-large. That requirement also allows Yale to slip in (see “How to get Yale in” above).

Those factors come together to get 3 ECAC teams in the NCAAs in about 6% of scenarios, so it can also happen without Yale being one of the teams

Conference participation possibilities for NCAA tournament

Even though Boston University is Hockey East’s only current lock for the NCAA tournament, they’re sure to get at least two entrants. That suggests that the only scenarios that knock Boston College out involve at least one Hockey East team other than BU making it (Mass.-Lowell, Vermont, Providence, or New Hampshire).

Hockey East is actually most likely to send 3-4, with 5 still possible.



The Big Ten is only guaranteed to place its conference tournament champion in the NCAA tournament. But, if Minnesota does well but fails to win the championship, the Big Ten could end up sending both the Gophers and the champ.



The NCHC is guaranteed to send five teams (Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, and Omaha), but is most likely to send a sixth (adding St. Cloud St).



The ECAC is only guaranteed to send its conference tournament champion, though its likely to send a second from Colgate, Harvard, Quinnipiac, or Yale. Harvard, Colgate, and Yale are all reasonably long shots, so not all can make it resulting in a maximum of three participants from the ECAC.



Atlantic Hockey will only send its tournament champion to the NCAA tournament.



The WCHA is guaranteed to send two teams, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State. They’re quite likely to send three and possibly even four from those two plus Bowling Green and Ferris State.


A look at who can make the tournament (with less math)

The big data dump is in the article below, so here’s a less numeric list of who’s still in position to make the NCAA hockey tournament.

These guys seem in

#1 North Dakota
#2 Minnesota State-Mankato
#3 Denver
#4 Boston University
#5 Michigan Tech
#6 Minnesota Duluth
#7 Miami
#8 Nebraska-Omaha

Can make it at-large

#9 Boston College (idle, >99% of scenarios)
#10 Quinnipiac (70% if they lose, 95% if they win)
#11 St Cloud St (20% if they lose, >99% if they win)
#12 Bowling Green (50% if they lose, 95% if they win)
#13 Minnesota (5% if they lose, 35% if they win)
#14 Providence (idle, 75% of scenarios)
#15 Harvard (<1% if they lose, 10% if they win) #16 Colgate (out if they lose?, 5% if they win) #17 Mass.-Lowell (out if they lose, 3% if they win) #18 Yale (idle, 4% of scenarios) #19 Vermont (out of if they lose, 10% if they win)

Can make it by winning their conference tournament

#20 St. Lawrence
#21 Michigan
#22 Robert Morris
#27 New Hampshire
#30 Penn State
#31 Michigan State
#34 Ferris State
#37 Ohio State
#38 Canisius
#39 Mercyhurst
#40 RIT
#55 Wisconsin

How the “can make it at-large” teams make it

There are 16 slots. 6 go to the winners of the conference tournaments. The next 10 are given to the top PWR teams that haven’t yet been selected (by winning their conference tournament).

Those teams that are still playing can make it by winning their conference tournament and getting the autobid.

If they fall short of that goal, the bubble teams want:

  • To win (if still playing) to maximize their own PWR
  • Other bubble teams to lose to increase PWR
  • Conference tournaments to be won by top teams so lower PWR ranks make it at-large

The winner of Atlantic Hockey will be a team that would not get an at-large bid, taking away one spot. That leaves at most 15 spots for top PWR teams.

The winner of the NCHC will be a team that would get an at-large bid, guaranteeing an extra PWR spot. At least the top 11 PWR teams will make the tournament.

Here’s who else bubble teams should cheer for to win their tournaments to maximize spots:

Big Ten – Minnesota
WCHA – Michigan Tech, Mankato, Bowling Green
Hockey East – Boston University (maybe Vermont, Mass.-Lowell)
ECAC – Quinnipiac (maybe Harvard, Colgate, St. Lawrence)

Who might fall out of contention for NCAA tournament?

Yesterday I looked at Who’s a lock for the NCAA tournament?, now let’s take a look at who can fall out of contention for the NCAA tournament this weekend.

First, only teams that have the potential to be eliminated from their conference tournaments this weekend are considered able to fall out of contention.

I then call any team that can be eliminated and still finish higher than #20 still alive for contention, even though the lower ranked of those are very unlikely to make up the necessary ground in PWR. For a more realistic look at who’s a lock, refer to the previous article.

10:57ET 2015/03/11 — St Cloud St moved from still alive to eliminated because even though they could still potentially be in PWR position, they would not have a .500 record so would be ineligible. Hat tip to @GOHUSKIESWOOOOO for pointing out that oversight.

Still alive even if they lose this weekend (at-large bid would still be possible)

#1 North Dakota
#2 Mankato
#3 Minnesota Duluth
#4 Miami
#5 Michigan Tech
#6 Boston University
#7 Nebraska Omaha
#8 Denver
#9 Providence
#10 Boston College
#11 Bowling Green
#12 Quinnipiac
#13 Yale
#15 Mass.-Lowell
#17 Harvard
#19 Vermont

Having already covered the top teams in “Who’s a lock”, tomorrow I’ll dive deeper into the bubble teams.

Still alive no matter what happens this weekend (not yet in conference tournament)

#14 Minnesota
#20 Michigan
#28 Penn State
#32 Michigan State
#37 Ohio State
#55 Wisconsin

Will not make the NCAA tournament if eliminated this weekend

#16 St Cloud St (would not have .500 record)
#18 Colgate
#21 Bemidji St
#22 St Lawrence
#23 Dartmouth
#26 Robert Morris
#27 Western Michigan
#29 Merrimack
#30 New Hampshire
#31 Union
#33 Notre Dame
#34 Northern Michigan
#35 Ferris St
#38 Bentley
#39 Canisius
#42 Mercyhurst
#44 RIT
#46 Rensselaer
#47 Air Force
#49 Sacred Heart
#50 Colorado College
#53 Alabama Huntsville
#54 Lake State
#58 Niagara

Have no more opportunities to make NCAA tournament

#24 Alaska
#25 Northeastern
#36 Cornell
#40 Maine
#41 Connecticut
#43 Clarkson
#45 Massachusetts
#48 Brown
#51 Holy Cross
#52 Alaska Anchorage
#56 Princeton
#57 Army
#59 American International


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.