This time in Calculated Reactions, Canada's most-widely-read collegiate sports statistics column, we're going to look at the teams who might improve in the new year.
I included those teams whose final expected records turn out noticeably better than their current records (in other words, the ones who are likely to turn it on in the second half). To find the expected record, I figured out the odds of each team winning each of its remaining games, based on RPI so far this year, and added up the probabilities for each team over all its games. So for example, January 8, St. Thomas at SMU in men's hockey, the Huskies have about a 67% chance of getting the two points, so that means about 1.4 points on average. Then we just add up all the expected points for all games for all teams and we have expected final standings. (Games between the more evenly-matched hockey teams are assumed to go to OT, so there is a third point in play for those games.)
For some reason, OUA teams are everywhere in this article. Perhaps this is due to cross-over schedules: OUA East and OUA West men's hockey and basketball teams play different schedules, and if you have a more balanced schedule it's less likely that you'll be much better in the second half than the first.
I didn't include any teams who were so far back in their conference that any improvements were more likely to be regression to the mean than actual improvements, such as St. Thomas women's hockey or UPEI men's basketball.
Now: 4-8, 10th in Canada West
Expected: 10-14 or 11-13, 8th
Swing games: Jan. 7/8 at Calgary, Feb. 11/12 at Lethbridge
This isn't the sexiest improvement--from 10th to 8th!--but a 6-6 second-half record is, after all, better than 4-8. The Cascades start things off with the Dinos, a team that may not reach the heights they did last year but can still offer a tough road opponent. UFV's season (and playoff chances) may turn on how they perform in their four games in southern Alberta.
Now: 6 points, tied for 4th in AUS
Expected: 27 points, 4th
Swing games: Jan. 9 vs. St. F-X, Jan. 28 vs. UPEI
I'll never understand why the AUS goes with a two-point/four-point system (they have a 2-5 team ahead of two 3-3 teams), but it seems to exist only to require me to do more work for prediction articles like these.
The Axemen have lost only to CBU and Dalhousie in league play (and to McMaster and Ottawa in preseason play, though by January those games will be two months old), and their games against St. F-X will be good barometers for their chances to grab an AUS berth at the Final 8.
Now: 3-5, tied for 7th in OUA West
Expected: 10-12, 6th
Swing games: Jan. 5 vs. Laurier, Jan. 12 vs. Windsor, Jan. 21/22 vs. Lakehead
Mac might be a bubble team in the OUA West this year--though everyone from 4th to 8th could potentially be bubbly, if you will, especially if something happens to Lakehead or Laurier or Windsor.
Our Brian Decker has seen this team far more than I have. His thoughts on Mac's second-half chances? "The absolute biggest factor for them will be the health of Scott Brittain, their NCAA transfer. He's easily their best player and every time I talk to the coaches, players or anyone else with the team they rave about him. They've held him out of the lineup because they are being cautious bringing him back from multiple concussions, but I expect him to be playing fully in the winter.
"Their success will depend largely on how quickly their first year guys (especially Taylor Black, who is likely a future cornerstone player) can develop, because they have to depend on them a lot more than most playoff teams do."
Now: 18 points, tied for 6th in OUA West
Expected: 31 points, 5th
Swing games: Jan. 8 at Waterloo, Jan. 28/29 vs. Lakehead, Feb. 12 at Western
Guelph's actually 8th nationwide in RPI. The only problem with that? The other teams in their division are 4th, 7th, 9th, 15th, 17th...you get the point. The OUA West is tough. Can they make a run? The Big Man on Campus, Greg Layson, says it's possible:
"Biggest question is goaltending. I think Cody St. Jacques [who signed with Brampton in the OHL] was the best they had. And, by the looks of it, I'm right. They've lost every game without him — at least since he left.
"It's going to be interesting to see how Guelph — or anyone — goes about winning it or at least making a run. I think it's Western and Lakehead and everyone else in the West. That said, Guelph's as good as Waterloo and Laurier and Brock. They could finish third."
And Guelph, of course, has already beaten Brock twice this year, which as Greg points out would give them the tiebreaker should the Gryphs and Badgers finish equal on points and wins.
Now: 19 points, tied for 5th in OUA West
Expected: 31 points, 4th
Swing games: Jan. 19 and Feb. 11 at Toronto, Jan. 8 and Feb. 15 at Ryerson
Five points out of second with four games left against RMC is not a bad place to be in, and the Gee-Gees and Ravens (in third and fourth place) each have much tougher schedules in the second half. Let's turn this one over to Ken Pagan (@nuggetKenPagan), who covers the Lakers for the North Bay Nugget:
"Both Ottawa and Carleton would do well to go .500 in the second half. Whereas, Nipissing can be expected to win seven or eight games, perhaps more. If they play to their level, the Lakers could go 7-3-1 in the second half and finish with 34 points. Fourth place is definitely in the cards, and third is a possibility.
"The wildcard in the second half is goaltending. Matt Hache missed time with a hip injury, Kyle Cantlon missed the first 10 games with a shoulder injury and Billy Stone is still eager to show he can win some games after tending the net during first-half losses to Queen's and Concordia.
"The ceiling, I think, would be third place in the East, earning home ice for a first-round playoff series and perhaps reaching the Eastern semifinals. While they have matched up well against UQTR, winning both games, the playoffs are the playoffs and experience is a big factor. The Lakers have just two players (Ryan Maunu and Brodie Beard) beyond their second year in the OUA. In that sense, the Lakers are similar to the Carleton Ravens — in another year or two, the core of the team will be further along and they should be poised for a longer run."
Now: 2-5, tied for 5th in OUA East
Expected: 7-12 or 8-11, 4th (i.e., a playoff spot)
Swing games: Jan. 8 vs. Lakehead, Jan. 15 vs. Laurier, Jan. 22 at Windsor, Jan. 29 vs. Toronto, Feb. 6 at Ryerson, Feb. 12 vs. Guelph
RMC? Playoffs?! Are you kidding me?
After years of losing every game, the Paladins won one last year, and already have two wins this year. And they're ranked ahead of four other OUA teams in my preliminary, not-yet-published rankings. Even so ... how is this going to work? Well, they're actually favourites to win at home over Toronto, so that helps. Among other home games, Lakehead, Laurier, and Waterloo are also winnable.
I'm not saying they'll win all six swing games above, but a couple of those plus a couple of well-timed losses by Toronto would do it.