Analysis: Coping with the Schedule

More than a gauntlet is needed for schedule balance

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The Ontario SchoolReach provincial championship whittles roughly 40 teams down to three national invites. To coordinate the largest field of any SchoolReach event, teams are split into pools that play amongst each other, with the (usually) top two of eight in each group moving on to the playoffs.

The composition of the pool can play a significant role in how far a team can progress in the tournament. There are good-faith efforts to balance the pools, but historically with no other background information, organizers had to use reputation (and geographical separation) to form the pools. Often, this led to strange results, such as two 2013 national invites coming from the same preliminary group. Ideally, and with more information, teams would be sorted so that they earn a final rank appropriate to their performance.

But I can’t solve that for now. What I can do is look back, thanks to collecting data from past tournaments. I occasionally get asked (or hear complaints) about how teams don’t get a fair shot during provincials, either through losing a playoff spot to a “weaker” team or having to deal with a group of death. I took a look at some numbers.

The analysis is based on teams that had at least 10 appearances at Ontario provincials since 1999. Results from 2003-05 are excluded from the averages because I don’t have pool composition for those tournaments (just points and ranks). 18 schools fit the bill, including most of the modern “usual suspects” for national qualifications.

rank_PPG
Fig 1. Average rank and PPG of frequent Ontario SchoolReach championship attendees

First up is a team’s average rank against their average round-robin points per game. See figure 1, and excuse the crowded labels in places; some teams are close together. There is an unsurprising relationship – teams that finish well scored more points to get there. There are four teams that are at least a full standard deviation from the linear trend:

  • UTS earns more points than necessary to get their rank. They are also limited by being unable to go below 1, even though they would fit closer to a theoretical rank of “0”.
  • Lisgar gets the round-robin points to justify an average rank in the 1-3 range. However, they have a history of stumbling in the playoffs, especially the televised ones, which gives them a lower final rank than their seed would suggest.
  • I will get back to Leaside in a later graph. In the early years, the team scored UTS-esque point tallies. In their later years, they had schedule benefits. Their mid-years are excluded (2003-05).
  • Assumption earns fewer points than expected. It will be seen later that one of my past assumptions (pun intended) that they get easy draws is false. Instead, they probably earn lots of close wins in the prelims, operating on razor-thin margins of victory to often get on the better side of the playoff bubble.
rank_SOS
Fig 2. Average rank and strength of schedule of frequent Ontario provincials attendees

Next is the comparison of rank and strength of schedule. The relationship is not as strong, but teams with better ranks usually have an easier schedule. This is expected for balanced pools – the top teams in the pools face teams weaker than them, while the bottom teams face opponents stronger than them. Unfortunately, we don’t have information-based balance, so we are starting to see some outliers:

  • Leaside is on the low side of this chart. They were getting statistically significantly easier schedules than their rank would suggest. However, I believe I can explain this – Leaside made the provincial final in all (and only) the three excluded years. Leaside was extremely good in the 2003-05 period. They were also a very strong prelim team before that, but would slip in the playoffs. For their remaining active years (consecutively until 2009), they probably benefited from reputation placing them as expected pool winners, but they never made playoffs again after the 2005 run. If the 2003-05 results could be added, they would have a higher average rank with probably not too much change in SOS.
  • Lisgar appears low, but is within a standard deviation. As mentioned before, their average rank is worse than expected because of historical poor playoff performance.
  • The cluster of Oakville-Trafalgar, Waterloo, and Westdale have a right to gripe. They face statistically significantly tougher schedules than their results would justify – Westdale is almost two standard deviations from the trend. OTHS is particularly surprising: they had good results in the missing years (thanks to University Challenge celebrity Eric Monkman), but don’t appear to have been given a “boost” from that reputation; they seem to be put in pools under the assumption they don’t do well. Westdale’s tough luck was also looked at in an earlier post when I posited (incorrectly) that Hamilton teams in general suffered from bad schedules.
SOS_PPG
Fig 3. Average strength of schedule and PPG of frequent Ontario provincials attendees

The last graph, comparing SOS and PPG, could be summarized as how teams cope with the schedule they’ve been dealt. Strength of schedule loosely represents pool strength and the potential unbalance, so teams getting PPGs above the trend are punching above their weight to overcome a bad draw. A few teams are outliers:

  • Westdale still stands out (OTHS and Waterloo draw closer to the trend in this analysis). Their single greatest mountain to climb was the 2013 pool: they had a 5-2 record, their second-best ever PPG relative to the set, and a final rank of 11th, all while dealing with two nationals-bound teams and a third team that also got into the playoffs. Westdale also incredibly made playoffs in 2009 with a 1.15 SOS. Westdale often got the worst schedules, but they made every effort to try to get something out of it.
  • Assumption is the outlier on the low end. I don’t wish to suggest that they are a low-effort team, though. They get schedules that are roughly fair for what is expected of them, but the first analysis suggested that they just don’t pick up large margins of victory.
  • UTS is also an outlier. They appear to have an easy slate of opponents, but they are still performing better than their schedule would expect. UTS has had a few years with tough pools (including the 2013 one mentioned earlier) while still consistently putting up points – they have qualified for nationals four times with a preliminary SOS greater than 1. Organizers (unintentionally) throw tough teams at UTS, and they still prevail.

So there are some data to ponder. I’m sure there are some less-frequent teams that also struggle or get an easy break, but the teams highlighted here should have enough sample size to stand out. Use your own results to see how your team compares to these provincial regulars.

2017 Ontario provincial results

Better late than never!

First off, apologies that this is late, but I’m back from travel now.

The 2017 SchoolReach Ontario provincial championships were held last week in Scarborough. 39 teams competed for ten playoff spots, and those teams then played their Monday rounds to determine the provincial champion and the three Nationals qualifiers.

The University of Toronto Schools won the tournament, with Lisgar CI and Martingrove CI claiming second and third. My results with R-values have been uploaded. Congratulations to both the winners and all the participating teams.

I’ll start with the pools, which can be gleaned from the results graphic Reach provided. There was better balance than some years, with the two extremes of pool B averaging 293.9 PPG and pool E averaging 261.5 PPG. Pool B’s high numbers weren’t just from Lisgar’s massive haul of points; the rest of the pool averaged 259.8 PPG and Lisgar had the toughest strength-of-schedule of any of the five pool winners. Pool E lacked any of my pre-tournament “tier 1” teams, though UCC was, in retrospect, worthy of assuming the “tier 1” role for that pool. Pool E also had a weaker midfield than the other pools. That being said, the variations of strength-of-schedule were not outlandish, and getting 2 playoff teams from each pool is usually the ideal scenario.

There were a few impressive “just-misses”. Pool B had the 12th, 13th, and 14th ranked teams (Oakville Trafalgar HS, Banting SS, and Neil McNeil HS), all of whom had R-values in the range of playoff teams. St. Joseph’s (of the Windsor variety) came from completely off my radar to one spot short of the playoffs.

The ten playoff teams were not too surprising. In fact, they all were listed on my top 15 preview, and all but one were in my top 10 (I went with Centennial CVI instead of Assumption CSS, which is how the head-to-head match, but not the final ranking, ended up). From final rank upward:

  • Merivale (10th). Considering the struggles this teams has had just to exist this year, a playoff appearance is a good finish.
  • RSGC (9th). Their “legit” team came this time, but their performance was surprising. Considering how well they did last year at UTS and also in History Bowl, this finish is a headscratcher. The good news for them is that the team returns next year, so they should improve.
  • Westmount (8th). Their prelim upset over UCC gave them a top seed, but R-value predicted a first-round loss to Assumption. Still, a good showing from the school and they have a solid intermediate group that will join the main team in the future.
  • PACE (7th). They survived Pool B with the R-value to show for it. In fact, their first-round match with London Central only had a 0.5% difference between the two – essentially a coin-flip.
  • Assumption (6th). Their prelim win over UTS was a shock, but they racked up the points throughout the day to justify their second-round appearance. They obviously improved since regionals; they lost to OTHS in the Burlington-Oakville title showdown in March.
  • London Central (5th). Amazingly, 5th would be considered an off-year for Central. Their R-value of 134% was 4th overall, but closer to the bubble teams than the top group.
  • UCC (4th). UCC lost four playoff games and finished 4th, thanks to the “highest-scoring loser” rule. This also happened to Massey in 2005 and St. Brother Andre in 2014. Nevertheless, they pulled off the highest losing score against UTS in the first round and Lisgar in the second; that’s what makes their feat more impressive.
  • Martingrove (3rd). Martingrove benefited from the easiest strength of schedule, but they knew they needed to pile on the points to get a strong seed. Unfortunately, UTS was just too strong in the semifinal, but they recovered to pick up third place and a Nationals spot. They will go deep in the Nationals playoffs as well.
  • Lisgar (2nd). Their raw R-value of 181% is the highest on record for a provincial tournament, and unlike other high R-values in history, they didn’t have a strength of schedule greater than 1. Lisgar just raked in points, including a 700 point game. Their 3730 prelim points are the most ever in the 7-game format, and their 533 PPG are behind only the 2001 and 2002 UTS teams, who had higher-scoring sets in their years. They cruised through the playoffs until they met only other team within striking distance of them. Once again, Lisgar has qualified for Nationals without winning a provincial title.
  • UTS (1st). That absence last year was a fluke. UTS is back and ready for a national title run. Their prelim R-value of 162% is also among the top 5 ever at a provincial tournament. UTS does need a clean run in the Nationals prelims, though, lest they take a strange loss (like they did against Assumption) and end up with a tough playoff road (each of last year’s top 4 as their four opponents).

And that’s how Ontario went. Midfield was a bit weak this year, but the top group are dominant. It would not surprise me to see Ontario 1-2-3 at Nationals this year.

But Nationals is another story. I’ll be back with a preview of the teams in time for next week’s final tournament.