Saturday, January 21, 2017

NCAA Tournament Bracket Formation: Personal Thoughts on the Factors Most Important to Decision-Making

In the previous group of posts, I've provided data on, and some observations about, what appear to be the most important factors influencing the Women Soccer Committee's decisions on NCAA Tournament at large selections and seeds.  I always like to provide the data so that others who are interested can review the data and reach their own conclusions on what the data mean.  I also have my own thoughts on what the data mean, so here they are:

1.  Not surprisingly and certainly not a new observation, teams' ARPI Ratings and Ranks are key factors in the decision-making process.  For one thing, they create a superstructure within which all decisions are made:
  • Teams with ARPI rankings of #58 or poorer do not get at large selections;
  • Teams ranked #30 or better appear secure in getting at large selections, although over the last few years it has become less clear where the "inner boundary" for protected teams is;
  • Teams must be ranked #26 or better to get a seed;
  • Teams must be ranked #19 or better to get a #3 seed;
  • Teams must be ranked #13 or better to get a #2 seed;
  • Teams must be ranked #7 or better to get a #1 seed.
In addition, many of the other factors that appear powerful in the Committee's decision-making are paired factors, with one element of the pair being a team's ARPI Rating or its ARPI Rank.

2.  For at large selections, teams' Top 50 Results Scores and/or Ranks, using a scoring system highly weighted towards good results against very good teams, when paired with the ARPI, is the most important factor.  This is not new information, but my current update work confirms it.  This is important not only for identifying the teams that do get at large selections, it's also important for identifying the teams that don't get selections.

3.  For at large selections, a second important factor is teams' Top 60 Common Opponent Results Scores and/or Ranks.  This year's update is the first time it's become clear to me how important this factor is in contributing to what teams do get at large selections.  It's not as important for what teams don't get selections.

4.  For at large selections, the Non-Conference ARPI (ANCRPI) Ratings and Ranks also are important.  This is the first time I've seen this so clearly.

5.  For at large selections, although a team's Conference Rating and/or Conference Rank do not appear to be highly important for identifying teams that do get at large selections, when paired with the ARPI they are an important factor for identifying teams that don't get at large selections.  There are a couple of possible explanations for this.  The more cynical explanation, that I doubt is the case, is that the Committee is biased in favor of the strongest conferences.  The other explanation, which I believe is more likely, is that the significance of the Conference Rating and/or Rank factor pattern is that it represents a difficult reality for teams from all but the strongest conferences.  Since their conference schedules are weaker than the conference schedules of teams from the strongest conferences, the teams from the weaker conferences tend to play weaker schedules.  With good results against Top 50 teams, represented by the Top 50 Results Score and Rank factors, as a major part of the decision-making, followed by Top 60 Common Opponent Results Scores and/or Ranks, most teams from weaker conferences have fewer opportunities to score well on those factors.  Thus their Conference ARPI/Rank probably are indicators of that problem.  This is why, for a long time, I have emphasized the importance for teams from mid-majors, that want to be successful in the competition for at large selections, to schedule a lot of very strong opponents for the non-conference parts of their schedules.  The West Coast Conference is an example of a mid-major that does this and has been successful in getting at large selections.  The Ivy League, unfortunately, is an example of a mid-major that doesn't do it and has been pretty unsuccessful in getting at large selections.

6.  For #1, #2, and #4 seeds, teams' Top 60 Common Opponent Scores/Ranks paired with teams ARPPI Ratings/Ranks are the most important in determining which teams do and don't get those seed positions.  This is not that surprising, as the teams in contention for seeds typically have significant numbers of games against each other, so a good measure for seeding purposes is how a team has done against the whole pool of seed competitors.

7.  For #3 seeds, teams' Conference ARPI/Rank is important.  It appears difficult for the Committee to make decisions, for teams they think should be seeded, between #3 and #4 seeds.  The importance of Conference ARPI/Rank suggests that the Committee, in deciding which should receive #3 seeds, has a tendency to default to teams from the strongest conferences.

8.  For the #4 seeds, teams' ANCRPI Ratings/Ranks also are important.

9.  Although teams' Top 50 Opponents Scores/Ranks are not particularly important in deciding the seeds that teams get seeds, they are important in deciding the teams that do not get #2, #3, and #4 seeds.

Overall, my conclusion is that fans and coaches, if they want to know their teams' NCAA Tournament seed and at large selection prospects, should be paying particular attention to (1) their ARPI Ratings and Ranks, (2) their Top 50 Results Scores and Ranks, and (3) their Top 60 Common Opponent Scores and Ranks.  Secondarily, they should pay attention to teams' Conference ARPIs and Ranks and their ANCRPI Ratings and Ranks.

On the other hand, the data suggest that teams' Head to Results and Last 8 Games Results are not as important.  It is possible the Head to Head Results relative unimportance represents a judgment that using one game's result is not a reliable basis for decision-making.

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