Win and you're in? It's not quite that simple.
March 28, 2017 by Cody Mills in Analysis with 1 comments
As we enter the final weekend of the regular season, the battle for Nationals bids is set for an exciting conclusion. With many teams still in the hunt for bids, this weekend’s results will determine the final few bids. Here’s a look at exactly what teams will need to do to grab the brass ring.
Analysis based on the projected USA Ultimate rankings for this week.
The bid race is red hot in the men’s division! Assuming BYU does not play in the series, the cutoff is again the #20 spot for bids. With the exceptions of #17 UBC and #25 Florida, every team ranking in the #16-#28 range is active this weekend, and most of them have a realistic shot at claiming a bid for their region. Here’s a quick rundown of the bubble teams.
#16 NC State: NC State has quietly put themselves in a great position to hold on to a third bid for the AC at Easterns. They already have 20 games, so this weekend will be around 30% of their ranking. That means they can afford to average ~1650 a game and be fine, which is extremely attainable. They can take a 13-8 loss to #3 UMass and only be a little off course. The same could be said of a 13-10 loss to Oregon. They can even lose to Cal Poly, as long as it’s only by 1 or 2. The only teams they definitely need to beat are LSU and Georgia Tech; as long as they don’t completely implode this weekend, they’re going to be fine.
#17 UBC: Thanks to a 6-0 Northwest Challenge performance, the T-Birds are sitting pretty. Barring a storm of stellar performances from the 21-28 teams, UBC’s bid is secure, as the team is idle for the rest of the season.
#18 Colorado State: Hibida is active this weekend at Huck Finn and will take on #23 Northwestern, #28 Auburn, and #42 Illinois in pool play. CSU is on the right side of the line right now, but with over 1/3 of their ranking in play this weekend, they can’t afford to falter. They need to average1 roughly 1775 rating points per game this weekend to stay inside current cutoff of ~1800.
They can get that from a solid win over Illinois, any win over Northwestern, and a 1-goal win over Auburn. Close losses to Auburn and Northwestern aren’t killers, but even a close loss to Illinois would use up most of their margin for error. None of those teams are easy outs, so Hib is on thin ice.
#19 Cal Poly-SLO: Oh my, the more things change the more they stay the same. SLO sits precariously at #19, ready to enter the highest-level tournament of college season (Easterns) to try to defend the second Southwest bid that the region has tantalizingly sought for the last three years. Cal Poly has a little over a fourth of the ranking to be determined this weekend and is looking to average ~1750 to stay over the 1800 mark. They’ve got #3 UMass, #12 Oregon, #16 NC State, #27 LSU, and #70 Georgia Tech in pool play. A 400-point loss to UMass (13-9) or 2-goal loss to Oregon would keep them on pace for 1750, but anything worse starts to hurt them.
On the bright side, Cal Poly find themselves in a lucky position with the rest of their pool— NC State and LSU represent extremely “gettable” points for them, due to the nuances of the algorithm2. Even double game point wins over those teams would keep them on pace, and anything more than that would increase their error margin. A 13-9 win over NC State would be about the same as a double game point win over UMass! The only real killer would be a loss to Georgia Tech— they need to win that game by at least three to stay on pace.
#20 Central Florida: UCF enters Easterns as the last team inside the bid range (assuming BYU drops). They have a little over a fourth of their ranking in play and get #5 Colorado, #4 Carleton, #8 Michigan, #33 Harvard and #36 UConn in pool play. UCF is trying to maintain their current average, and they can do that by making their pool go to chalk. Colorado and Carleton are rated quite highly, so 13-10 losses to them are enough to stay on pace. Barring a blowout, these games offer very little downside to UCF.
Their exposure lies in the games vs UConn and Harvard, both ranked below 1700. They simply cannot afford losses to those two; at best a double game point loss to either (both teams currently rated ~1650) is worth ~1550. That means to stay on pace they would need to get an extra 250 rating points elsewhere, which isn’t a gimme. Michigan is a wild card because over half of their ranking will get determined this weekend, so it’s hard to know for sure what result they need against MagnUM but given UCF’s thin margin for error, they need to make sure it’s a win.
#21 Virginia: Nightrain currently has their collective noses pressed against the glass looking in. They’ll take the field at Easterns this weekend in need of a strong performance. With a little over a third of their ranking in play they need to average about 1850 a game. That means they can afford a 13-9 loss to #1 Pitt, but the gimme’s stop there. To stay on pace they’ll need a least a double game point loss to #9 Wilmington, and nothing short of wins over the rest of the pool. They need to beat #39 Tufts by more than one and get wins over #26 Case Western and #13 Wisconsin. That seems like too tall an order for a team that hasn’t been tested by elite competition yet this season.
#22 Purdue: Purdue will play Huck Finn this weekend and look to make the jump into the bid picture. Like Virginia, they have a little over a third of their ranking in play and will need to average 1900 a game to get over the line. It’s actually looking doable if they bring their A-game. They’re probably not beating #6 Minnesota, but if they can only lose by two they’ll stay on pace. But, let’s be realistic and say they lose 13-9 instead: they can still hit their number if they beat #34 Cincinnati and #38 Notre Dame 13-9 each instead of 13-10– certainly not outside the realm of possibility. However, that’s just to get near the line; to solidify their shot they’ll want even better results.
#23 Northwestern: Northwestern is very similar to Purdue, except that they only have one fourth of their ranking to be determined at Huck Finn. They draw #18 Colorado State, #42 Illinois, and #28 Auburn in pool play. Because their current ranking is more stable than Purdue, they’ll need to get 1950 per game. In their pool, that not only means they cannot afford to lose, they have to make sure to beat Illinois at least 13-9 and Auburn 13-10. Any win over Colorado State will do. That said, the month of March has seen NUT lose 9-11 to #48 Ohio and get absolutely thrashed by Purdue 15-4. That context makes an undefeated Saturday hard to imagine, and without that NUT likely won’t be earning a bid.
#24 Virginia Tech: Burn will enter Easterns with a shot, but some tough work ahead because of their pool. With only 12 games on their docket so far they have about 40% of their ranking to determine— that means they can get near the line by averaging ~1875. Even so, to get that they’ll really have to bring it against the top of the pool. They can get that pace if they manage to play UNC to 13-10 (tough) or Georgia to 13-11 (also tough). And they won’t get any easy points off their 3-seed, Stanford. Burn lost to Blood 10-12 at the Stanford Invite3 but they’ll have to avenge that loss to stay on pace (though a double game point loss wouldn’t be a showstopper). After that they’ll need at least 13-10 over #31 Florida State and 13-11 over #41 Brown. That performance seems possible, but they’ll need to hit a gear we haven’t seen yet.
#25 Florida: Florida finished their season comfortably winning Trouble in Vegas last weekend, but at #25 they won’t be earning a bid for the Southeast.
#26 Case Western: The Fighting Gobies are in a similar boat to Virginia Tech, but start 15 points further behind. They’ll get over a third of their ranking from Easterns but will need about 1950 a game to get in range. To do that they’ll need to play #1 Pittsburgh to 13-10 or 13-11 and beat #9 Wilmington. And #13 Wisconsin. And win soundly over #39 Tufts. Their biggest upside game is against #21 Virginia — they only need a 13-11 win, and anything else gives them some margin. But with the rest of those results, I’m guessing they’ll need it. They’ll need to be beyond stellar.
#27 LSU: With 28 games already in hand, this weekend will only be about 25% of LSU’s ranking. That, coupled with the rating hole they’re already in, is going to be too much to overcome. They would need to average nearly 2200 points per game to be in contention, and they’re frankly not going to get it. They would need to go undefeated in pool play, and beat Oregon by at least three in doing it, and they’d have also have to beat Georgia Tech 13-5 or better.
#28 Auburn: Everyone’s favorite Cinderella story might not quite have the juice this year. They already have 22 games, so only a fourth of their ranking to work with. Like LSU, they’d need a silly-high 2200 per game to have a shot. Those points may actually be easier to come by in the weaker field of Huck Finn. They’d need to take down Colorado State by 13-10 or better, Northwestern 13-9 or better, and Illinois 13-7 on Saturday. They would also have to win the tournament on Sunday, again with convincing margins. That said, it’s probably not happening.
The Women’s Division has much less intrigue this week, given that most of the top teams finished their regular seasons at last weekend’s Northwest Challenge or the previous weekend’s Centex. The only teams in the projected top 25 who are active are Boston College (Garden State) and Liberty (Easterns). With the current bid cutoff line at #19, the Northwest’s (or, possibly, the Atlantic Coast’s) hope for a third bid hangs on BC’s performance. With only seven games on their record, and only five being counted because of the blowout removal rule, BC’s ranking is extremely volatile. Well over half of it will be determined this weekend.
As the literal cutoff team, BC needs to maintain their ranking, and any slip will heavily influence their low-sample average. Their pool play opponents are rated quite low, and in order to avoid being dragged down by that, will need reach the blowout level (13-5 or better) against several of them— Messiah, SUNY-Binghamton, and Rutgers. That means the only team they can afford to not blow out is Princeton, who they still need to beat 13-9 (which seems within reach, given that BC already owns a 15-8 win against them). Moreso than just winning, BC will need to make sure they win big this weekend if they want to hang on.
There’s potential for more intrigue if BC falters; Georgetown and Whitman are separated by just 1.03 rating points in the projections. That means it will be a battle of second-order effects to determine the last strength bid. Games two or even three connections away from the two teams will play a role. It’s tough to say who has the edge. One can say that Whitman’s ranking is more likely to be stable, because almost all of their opponents have been top 25, and as previously noted almost all of the top 25 is idle this weekend (and, particularly in the top 20, has a late-season tendency to only match up with each other, negating the potential for a lot of second-order changes).
Past the AC/NW vs NE drama, however, all the other regions are set:
- The Southwest locked up its four bids, which would feel a lot more comfortable if not for the looming threats of UCSD and UC Davis.
- North Central regionals should be quite a dogfight with #16 Carleton, #23 Iowa State, and #26 Minnesota all fighting to win the region’s lone bid.
- The Ohio Valley looks like it’ll be all chalk with two bids for a clear top two.
- Southeast top dog Florida got a top 20 spot and should win the region’s auto bid, but Kennesaw State could potentially play spoiler.
- South Central bid winners Texas and Colorado are looking powerful this year, but don’t sleep on Kansas and Colorado State.
- Great Lakes should be a snooze fest. Michigan and Notre Dame each earned a bid and neither has a challenger in sight.
- Metro East Regionals will, as usual, feature just one bid. #33 Columbia, #36 Cornell, and last year’s qualifier, #88 Ottawa, will battle it out.
Note that these averages are all relative. The point at which USAU stops iterating on the ranking can affect the absolute value of the team ratings, but their relative positions and differentials generally remain constant. ↩
The algorithm, notoriously, over-rewards wins over 25-15 teams in comparison to very close losses to 1-5 teams ↩
As I pointed out on Twitter, the date of this game is wrong on score reporter. Grant, I know you’re reading this— please fix it. ↩