The Bisons cut down the nets after last night’s game, since it was the first time in the 50-year history of the program that the Harding men finished tied for a conference (or really the division) championship. They still have some work to do, though, if they want to win a GSC Championship and make the NCAA Tournament.
Both Ouachita Baptist and Christian Brothers won last night, leaving them tied at 9-4, one game behind Harding in the GSC West. All three teams have clinched a berth in the GSC Tournament, although their seeds are very much in jeopardy. Arkansas Tech sits alone in fourth place at 8-5, leaving Delta State and UAM currently tied for the final playoff spot in fifth.
It’s actually kind of amazing to me how many possible orders of finish there are, and as you’ll see shortly, the six teams left in contention for playoff spots all have at least a 60% shot at making it.
Here’s how it could all work out, starting with tomorrow night’s schedule:
Harding (10-3) @ Christian Brothers (9-4)
Arkansas Tech (8-5) @ Ouachita Baptist (9-4)
Henderson State (0-13) @ Delta State (7-6)
Arkansas-Monticello (7-6) @ Southern Arkansas (2-11)
The current standings:
The remaining games and their corresponding Pythagorean/Log5 win probabilities:
A list of each possible outcome:
Finally, each team’s probability of making the playoffs, broken down by each possible finish, from first to 8th place:
Now a few observations about each team:
- A win and Harding is simply the #1 seed. However, Christian Brothers should be considered the favorite at home, especially as well as they’re playing right now (leading the GSC in net efficiency).
- A loss and an OBU win leaves all 3 teams tied for #1. Head-to-head record, fortunately, would break that tie, since Harding swept OBU and split with CBU, while CBU and OBU split with one another. Harding would be #1, CBU #2, and OBU #3.
- A loss and an OBU loss leaves just the Bisons and Bucs tied. Since they split, record vs. the next best team would break the tie. With ATU and OBU now tied at 9-5, I suppose that they would break that tie in the aggregate (with records against both schools combined), just as they do for other ties. Both were 2-2 against those opponents, although Harding was 2-0 against OBU and 0-2 against ATU, while Christian Brothers split with both. But, if they break the tie with each team separately, Arkansas Tech was 3-1 against HU and CBU, vs. OBU’s 1-3 mark against those teams. That would make Christian Brothers the #1 seed and Harding #2, by virtue of CBU’s better record vs. ATU. Complicated enough? I thought so. If they don’t break the HU-CBU tie by breaking the ATU-OBU tie first, they’ll have to go into another level of tiebreakers that I’m not currently aware of. That’s why you see a 6A and 6B scenario…I just split the difference in that case.
Best case scenario: Win = #1 seed.
Worst case scenario: Loss and OBU loss = #2 seed.
Christian Brothers (9-4)
- The Bucs’ most likely finish is third, but they’re also the only team other than Harding with a shot at the #1 seed (option 3 above under Harding). They’re also the only other team guaranteed a first-round bye in the tournament.
Best case: A win and an OBU loss most likely = the #1 seed.
Worst case: A loss and an OBU win guarantees them third place, but even an ATU win doesn’t necessarily mean a #2 seed.
Ouachita Baptist (9-4)
- Along with HU and CBU, the Tigers have clinched a playoff spot.
- Even though they’re just a game back, they can’t win the division because they lost both matchups against Harding.
- Their most likely finish is fourth.
Best case: A win and a Harding win would make them the #2 seed.
Worst case: In a three-way tie for second place with Christian Brothers and Arkansas Tech, they’re the tiebreak losers, dropping to the fourth seed and an opening round game.
Arkansas Tech (8-5)
- Even though they’re alone in fourth place right now ahead of two other contenders, they are the least likely of those teams to make the playoffs, at just a hair over 60%. The reason: if they fall into a three-way tie for fourth with DSU and UAM, they’re going to lose the tiebreaker and miss the tournament altogether because the Weevils swept them in the regular season.
- On the bright side, a win and a Christian Brothers win will give Tech second place, because of the tiebreaker edge they got by beating Harding twice.
- If Christian Brothers wins the division on a tiebreaker, they’re the likely #3 seed, still getting a first-round bye.
Best case: Beat OBU and root for Christian Brothers, and Tech could finish second.
Worst case: A loss and two fairly likely wins for DSU and UAM knock them out completely.
Delta State (7-6)
- There are only two possible outcomes for the Statesmen, and fortunately for them, the #5 spot is about a 3 in 4 proposition.
- Strangely, there is one possible outcome where they win and fail to make the tournament, as well as one outcome where they lose and still get in. If Harding and Arkansas Tech win, the Bisons are #1 and we have the three-way tie for second mentioned earlier. Then if both DSU and UAM win, they tie for fifth. Since Harding is in first place all alone, and DSU and UAM split the regular season, DSU’s two losses to Harding would cause them to miss out.
- On the flip side, with a loss and a UAM loss, and CBU and ATU wins, 7-7 is good enough to make the tournament field, this time winning the tiebreaker with UAM because Christian Brothers is the champ.
Best case: Win and root for UAM and ATU losses to maximize the chance of finishing fifth.
Worst case: A loss pretty much does it, except in the one case above. Of course, they are playing Henderson State at home.
- Like Delta State, they’re not guaranteed a spot with a win. If Christian Brothers, Arkansas Tech, and Delta State all win, I think it will still knock them out. This is a sticky situation, though, because it involves three two-way ties, none of which are broken by head-to-head record. You end up having to break the ATU-OBU tie by record against the top two teams, and that effectively would break all the other ties. I don’t know if that’s actually how it would work, though, so it’s possible that UAM would make it in there anyway.
- The Weevils’ most likely finish is actually fourth, since they win a three-way tie between them, ATU, and DSU.
Best case: Root for the three-way tie and a #4 seed.
Worst case: If SAU pulls off the upset, they need some major help to stay in.
Southern Arkansas (2-11) and Henderson State (0-13)
The beautiful thing about all of these head-to-head tiebreakers is that neither of these teams has a say in the final order of finish. Barring an upset, SAU will finish with their only conference wins being over winless Henderson State.
So, that’s how I see it. Harding is a pretty good bet to finish first, and the Bisons are the only team in full control of their playoff seed. That’s a good position to be in, especially in an abnormally weak year for the GSC. Despite their flaws, I could see the Bisons possibly advancing all the way to the final game against North Alabama. If they get there by beating Christian Brothers, too, they’re probably going to make the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history. There’s still a long way to go, but things will get much clearer tomorrow night.