Some Big Central teams will have a tougher road than others to the playoffs in ’23

Back in the days when power points themselves were simpler, and the only method the NJSIAA used for playoff seeding, there would always be some six-win team that could make a case to get in the playoffs over a four-win team. In 2017, 5-3 Linden missed the playoffs, while Columbia – 0-8 at the cutoff – made it in, thanks to a multiplier.

And even now, with power points more complicated, and OSI added in, there’s controversy. Manville didn’t make the playoffs last year at 6-2, when a Cutoff Weekend loss to Metuchen cost them a playoff spot, meaning the Mustangs would have had to 7-1 to make the playoffs.

This can happen when teams don’t play a strong enough schedule. That was the case with Manville. Meanwhile, other teams could win three games and get in.

And even the NJSIAA adopting a new rule that playoff teams must have a minimum of two wins to qualify (though some coaches and ADs pushed for three) may not be enough.

Over the last few days, we’ve looked at Big Central Strength Index ratings, as well as all 59 teams’ strength of schedule, based on the SI rating of their opponents. We can use that data to determine how many wins a team might need to make the playoffs.

We did this last year, and of the 58 public school teams in the BCC last year, our projections held true for all but three of them.

How did we do it? We took the minimum and maximum OSI each team could get in a year – for going winless or undefeated – and averaged the difference. If a team with eight games could average a 64 OSI for going unbeaten, and a 32 OSI for going winless, that’s a difference of 32. That means each game on average is worth eight points.

Those numbers can change throughout the season, as opponents’ SI numbers go up or down, but generally, they’re fairly accurate because, on average, some teams will go up, some will go down. Unless a whole division is much improved, or entirely down for the year, it often comes close to a wash in the end.

But how many wins would you need to make the playoffs?

We looked at the highest OSI team to miss the playoffs, then took the next team above that which was in the playoffs, and set that as the target goal for OSI. If that team we described above was in a section last year where no one below a 43 missed the playoffs, we could figure they’d probably need just two wins to make the playoffs, three for a lock. Going winless would give them about a 32 OSI, one win would give them 40, two would give them 48, well over the 43 “minimum.”

This is impossible to do with power points because we don’t know what the records of a team’s opponents will be. It’s a much more imperfect science than using SI and OSI, which – after being used in 2019 and 2021 – is a pretty useful – and accurate – tool.

The first year with OSI in use was 2019, after the controversial and failed Born Power Index in 2018. With no playoffs in 2020, OSI was only used again in 2021. So we only have two years of data to work with. But we decided to average the minimum OSI from the last two playoff seasons this year to get the target number.

Back to our predictions last year: in 2021, we were right on 55 of the 58 teams qualifying or not qualifying the playoffs. That is to say, if we said a team needed four wins to make the playoffs, most of those type teams who won only three games didn’t, and those that won more than four often made it. (Technically, 53 of the 58 were accurate, but that was only because Scotch Plains-Fanwood – which made it – was ineligible, and Montgomery – which didn’t make the cut mathematically – took the Raiders’ place).

So, for this year, here are the averages, the minimum OSI we think a team needs to make the playoffs.

  • North 5 – 38.81
  • South 5 – 42.91
  • North 4 – 42.95
  • South 4 – 41.34
  • North 3 – 42.01
  • South 3 – 40.61
  • North 2 – 40.46
  • South 2 – 37.98
  • North 1 – 35.36
  • South 1 – 35.21

Note that North 5 having a 38.81 minimum and South 5 having a 42.91 minimum doesn’t necessarily mean the North playoff teams were better. It just means North 5 playoff teams the last two years generally played tougher schedules. They also may have won closer games (because beating a team by more points drives the opponent’s SI down, thus driving down your own OSI.

Based on the above numbers, our projection is that a team in North 5 would need at least a 38.81 OSI to make the playoffs. That’s the two-season average. It was 40.21 in 2021 (based on 2019 playoff numbers, and they may have been higher because 2019 preseason numbers were based ont the final 2018 Born Power Index numbers) and 37.42 last year; next year, we’ll have three years of OSI to work from.

So, let’s pick a team. Elizabeth has an eight game schedule, with an estimated – because the numbers will change throughout the year – maximum OSI of 64.98 (if they go 8-0) and an estimated minimum of 32.49. Each win with worth about 4.06 OSI points.

One win would get them to 36.55. Two would get them to 40.61. Since the minimum we estimate at 38.81, we would predict that Elizabeth could get in the playoffs with just two wins. Three would give them 44.67. We think three wins would make them a lock. Last year, that would have put them at tenth in the playoff standings.

In actuality, the Minutemen went 3-5 at the cutoff, and made the playoffs, seeded 14th overall. We predicted three wins would get them in and that four would be a lock. They got in with three.

Let’s look at a middle group team: Cranford in North 3. We say 42.01 would be the minimum OSI, which they would also surpass with three wins. The defending North 2, Group 3 champions lose a lot from last year, but we project would be a playoff team with as little as three wins.

The difficulty is that the Big Central doesn’t have a lot of strong small schools, and that makes it difficult for small schools in the league to make the playoffs. For a school like Manville – a Group 1 – its peers are Highland Park, Dunellen, Metuchen. The first two are on their schedule, but overall it’s tougher this year, which could be a good thing – though Manville lost a lot as well.

And believe it or not, Manville is playing just about even against opponents; the average SI of the teams they play is about the same, within a point. But Manville was a 41.07 SI last year, and with a 6-2 season, upped that to 48.84 this season. They got better, and so did their opponents, by about a touchdown.

So, how many wins would the Mustangs need?

In South 1 they would need a 35.21 OSI, averaging out the last two playoff season minimums. With each game worth about 3.01 points, counting up from a winless OSI of 24.10: One win gets them 27.11, two gives them 30.12, three gives them 33.13, four wins gives them 36.14. We think they need four wins to get in, or at least be on the bubble. Five would put the Mustangs at 39.16, a virtual shoo-in.

In that way, we think the Big Central did a good job in Manville’s division and their schedule.

Last year, we predicted they would need an OSI of 37.33. To get that, they would have needed eight wins to get them over the hump. Turns out they would have needed 35.21. They finished 21st – five places out of a playoff spot – with 6 wins and a 29.73 OSI. The loss to Metuchen was the dagger. Seven wins might have made it. Eight likely would have been a lock.

That said, below are all our projections for how many games all 57 public schools in the Big Central (non-publics are seeded by committee) would need to win to make the playoffs:

A few notes and thoughts on our projections:

The Target OSI is the number below above which no team missed the playoffs. Anyone getting having an OSI of that value or better over the last two years, on average, made the playoffs in that specific supersection. The “Closest Over” column is the first number of wins that gets a team “over” the Target OSI. The “Full Step Over” column is simply one additional win.

Inotherwords, Union’s Target OSI is 38.81. They would be need just one win to get over that (39.27) and two to be a virtual lock (43.63). Two wins is the minimum to qualify for the playoffs anyway. So, with two wins, it would be hard for Union to not make the playoffs, unless everyone on their schedule goes winless and their OSI tanks. But that’s highly unlikely. Some will go up, some will go down, it’s usually close to a wash.

Remember the old days when you had to have a .500 record or better to be in the playoffs? Some still believe that, and others don’t. Our projections say the “average” number of wins to make the playoffs is 3.7 (close to 4-4 in an eight game schedule), while a virtual lock would be 4.7 (5-3 over eight games, or 5-4 in a nine-game schedule).

Last year, in the Big Central, the average number of wins we projected was a 4.0, and the lock average was a 5.0. Both numbers are down by 0.3 points. So, on average, the Big Central has made it “easier” for its teams to make the playoffs; requiring only 3.7 wins on average by its teams, compared with 4.0 last year. That’s a good thing.

Some teams, however need a lot of wins. Spotswood, for example, would have to win 7 or 8 games. Based on last year, getting to half that would be a huge success and turnaround for the program. Playoffs may not be a goal for every team. For the Chargers, it’s about getting experience and getting better.

But let’s go back to another team we talked about in a prior story: Brearley. Last year, the Bears were 7-2 at the cutoff with two forfeit wins. We said they needed five or six wins to get in, and they got in with seven, finishing as the 12th overall seed in North Group 1. This year, with a Target OSI of 35.36, they need six wins to pass that at 37.33, and seven wins to virtually lock in a playoff spot with a 40.00 OSI.

Being in a weak division – Bearley has a Strength Index value of 61.53 while only one of the eight opponents on its schedule have an SI over 50 (South Hunterdon at 59.36) – hurts the Bears. They already play four of the other “Division 1” type teams – Dunellen, Manville, Middlesex and South Hunterdon – so they might have been better playing in that same division with Dunellen, et al, and playing schools like Roselle (49.55) and Metuchen (46.59) instead of Spotswood (34.01) and Highland Park (26.32).

And though Brearley likely could make the playoffs, they would probably have to go undefeated to even have a remote shot at a home playoff game.

Carteret, Dayton, Governor Livingston and South Plainfield are the other schools that we believe need at least six wins to get in the playoffs.

As for the “easiest” route? (Remember, we’re not talking easy in terms of opponents, we mean fewer wins needed to make the playoffs.) Bridgewater-Raritan, Phillipsburg, Union and Westfield – we believe – could all make the playoffs with one win, if that were allowed this year by the NJSIAA. Two is the minimum. Roselle, Hillsborough and Elizabeth also fall into that group, needing at least two. That means all those teams are playing tough schedules.

Check back at the end of October; we’ll let you know how we did!

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