We’ll take a quick interlude into the tournament selection process. There will either be 61 or 62 bids awarded for the upcoming year. 42 of those spots will be reserved for conference champions (all but the UAA award automatic bids to the champion of the conference tournament). This is referred to as ‘Pool A’. One bid is reserved for teams that are not members of an automatic qualifying conference (independents and the like). This ‘Pool B’ bid is an at-large selection among qualifying teams. The remaining 18 or 19 bids (depending on how the final numbers shape out) are true at-large selections. This is referred to as ‘Pool C’.
D3hoops.com has an excellent FAQ section on how teams are selected and seeded. Read it. In my estimation, the in-region winning percentage and strength of schedule play the biggest roles in the determination of Pool C (especially after we get past the first few ‘obvious’ teams). Teams across regions don’t usually have a head-to-head matchup to look at, they probably haven’t played a common opponent, and the records versus regionally ranked teams seem to be more or less the same (at least with respect to the ridiculously small sample size anyway).
Back to my point about strength of schedule (SOS) being the culprit. Basically, the other members of the league need to step up their out of conference performance if Calvin (or Hope or the occasional Albion squad) are to make consistent runs at at-large bids. I’m not trying to project blame here, there are a few games that Calvin “could have won” that would have pushed them into the tournament (2009 at Kalamazoo, I’m looking at you), but their winning percentage was definitely good enough to get them in.
Last year (I don’t have 2009 data handy), there were nine Pool C teams with a better in-region winning percentage than Calvin, all of them got in. There were also nine teams with worse in-region percentages that got in as well. Calvin’s regional winning percentage (0.7895) was a tick above the average (0.7852) of the Pool C group that got selected. Nothing here would preclude them from being selected.
When it comes to SOS, Calvin ranked 162 out of the 331 eligible Pool C teams. Only two teams with a worse SOS were selected. Calvin’s SOS of 0.502 doesn’t compare well to the Pool C average of 0.541. A slight increase in this number could have meant tournament games for the Knights.
Here’s the breakdown of Calvin’s MIAA counterparts, and what each contributed to Calvin’s strength of schedule:
It’s quite tough to get an at-large bid out of a league that puts up numbers this poor. If you include the conference tournament and the fact that they play the league schedule twice, the in-league SOS number comes out to 0.489.
I can’t fault Hope at all. Their numbers are outstanding (the crappy matchup in the GRSHOF Tournament actually bailed Calvin’s SOS numbers out). I’d hate to ask Adrian, Albion, or Olivet to do better, seeing as they were all above league average contributors to Calvin’s SOS, but it would be nice to see one of them step it up a little bit.
Trine, Kalamazoo, and Alma need to get it in gear, but I just don’t see it happening. Maybe Trine will be better this year, but I’m not counting on Kzoo or Alma much. Especially Alma. It’s really hard on your SOS when one team in your league (who you end up playing three times) goes 1-19 in regional play.
Are there other ways to improve Calvin’s odds at making the tournament? Sure. They could win more games, although this is tough when three of the losses were against a very strong Hope team, and the other was on the road to a very good and very pesky Olivet team. They could schedule more in-region games. This is something that I would like to see, but it's tricky. The ideal team would be good enough that they’d help out your SOS, but bad enough that you could beat them without too much of a problem. Maybe such a team doesn’t exist, but it would be OK with me if the sacrifice a little bit of the winning percentage if they scheduled some tougher in-region competition.
Anyway, when games start in mid-November, make sure you're cheering on the teams from the MIAA (yes, even Hope). We need every them to score every in-region win they can get.