For the past three seasons we’ve begun the year with a playoff projection. Not who we think will make it, but how we think they’ll make it.
We looked at the OSI threshold for making the playoffs in previous seasons, and used that as a baseline for each supersection. They we looked at the maximum and minimum OSI each team could get based on their schedule and preseason SI values of all their opponents. In general, some teams will go up, some will go down, and it usually balances out.
We figured how many points – on average – each game worked out to, and how many wins it would take to get closest to the OSI threshold in their section, plus one more win to get clear over it.
This year, we projected 54 of 57 public schools in the Big Central correctly. That is, if we said a team needed 5 wins to make the playoffs, a “correct” projection would be that the team that reached that win level got in, and a team that didn’t got left out.
We got 54 or 57 right, and combined with having 55 of 57 last year and 55 of 58 the year prior, our all-time record stands at 164 out of 172 correct in a three-year span.
Does it mean we’re really good at this? We’ll take the compliment, but no. It’s a good indicator that over a three year time span, Strength Index and OSI is the best indicator of how strong teams really are.
Where did we go wrong?
We missed on Piscataway, Rahway and Voorhees.
For the Chiefs, they won five games but missed the playoffs for the second time in three years after never missing under Dan Higgins. Of course, the first came after not playing – or even practicing – during the COVID year, so 2021 was almost like starting from scratch.
We estimated Piscataway needed to win 3 or 4 games to get in. They finished in 18th place in the standings with a 17.8 UPR, 2.4 UPR points out of the top 16. A few four-win teams got in, as did Bridgewater-Raritan and Clifton, both 3-6. But both had tougher schedules than Piscataway. Four of the Chiefs wins came against Franklin, Monroe, East Brunswick and New Brunswick, a combined 5-31.
Rahway was on the right side of being wrong. We thought they would have to win 4 or 5 games to get in, but they made it with just three. They had a pair of wins over two-win teams Perth Amboy and Scotch Plains-Fanwood, but also had a good win over Lincoln (6 wins) and played multiplier St. Thomas Aquinas (a loss). Those no doubt helped them.
As for Voorhees, they were the product of an immensely weak schedule, and part of what hurt was that 2022 sectional champion North Hunterdon went from a two-loss team to a winless team, their SI plummeting from 76.41 to 42.32, after graduating virtually every key player and having a new head coach.
Three of Voorhees’ wins came against North Hunterdon, JFK and South River, all winless. The others came against South Plainfield (4 wins), Bound Brook (2 wins) and North Plainfield (1 win). They beat one playoff team, and lost to the three others on their schedule: Somerville, Delaware Valley, and Bernards.
So, what does it all mean? Scheduling is important, and we can’t drive home this point enough.
The Big Central Conference has hit the end of its two-year scheduling cycle. So when the league realigns its divisions this off-season, it’s time to take SI into account – not only when dividing the teams up, but also in their non-divisional crossovers.
It’s kind of like how schools “teach to the test” for standardized exams. You have to teach the material or else the students won’t do well.
Same here. Schedule to the system.
Or, if you don’t like the system, maybe it’s time for more changes. We’ll have a few suggestions in the coming weeks.