USCL Playoff chances/Power Rankings

Oct 8, 2014, 11:18 AM |

We're halfway through seven weeks of play, which means that the playoff picture generally becomes somewhat clarified. Unfortunately (actually fortunately, but ok), that doesn't seem to be the case this year. There's been a very large amount of parity in the league, and it's difficult to say anything with a reasonable degree of certainty. Those who appeared to be dominating the league early, such as St. Louis, and Dallas, suddenly appear vulnerable after some key defeats. Some of the early cellar teams have also roared back into contention, most notably Miami. Add to this the heavy uncertainty surrounding the bonus playoff spot, and we've got an exciting couple of weeks ahead.

Like I said, I haven't been on top of posting the recap articles because I've been extremely busy over the last couple of weeks. Logically, I thus very maturely decided to not spend time organizing or studying and instead spend it investigating this scenario. Like my power rankings earlier, I sought to put numbers to use here. Fortunately that's a pretty obvious method of going about things, given that we're looking at playoff percentages.

I had to first come up with a way to simulate a season, which is of course equivalent to simulate the matches in the season. Thus I had to decide what weights to assign what possible results. I decided to treat every team equally despite the fact that some teams are clearly stronger than others, and assumed that the match results would follow historical probability distributions. Therefore, take all these percentages with a gigantic grain of salt. Perhaps I'll go back later and redo them with the ELO ratings from last time in mind (which, by the way, are also in this post), but for now this should provide a reasonable starting point. I simulated this season 10000 times (a low number for such things, but I'm too lazy to download a compiler and that's about as many as an online one can handle). This yielded very interesting results, which I'll get to in a minute.

First, I'd like to remind everyone of the current standings, including the updated ELO ratings that I described in my power rankings post. Note that some teams haven't played this week yet:

Team Match Points(MP) Game Points(GP) ELO Rating
New York 5.5 16.5 2464.21
New Jersey 5.0 16.0 2458.42
Philadelphia 4.5 14.5 2422.62
Manhattan 3.5 12.0 2414.29
Boston 1.5 11.0 2334.74
New England 0.5 10.0 2310.59
Team Match Points(MP) Game Points(GP) ELO Rating
St. Louis 4.5 16.0 2430.57
Atlanta 3.5 15.5 2410.96
Miami 3.5 12.5 2393.14
Baltimore 3.0 12.5 2405.86
Connecticut 2.5 11.5 2385.98
Carolina 1.0 9.0 2330.14
Team Match Points(MP) Game Points(GP) ELO Rating
Dallas 5.0 18.0 2463.51
Rio Grande 4.5 15.0 2431.05
San Francisco 4.0 13.5 2437.44
Seattle 2.5 12.0 2392.35
Arizona 2.5 10.5 2373.33
Los Angeles 2.0 10.0 2361.11

Ok cool, so that tells us how teams are performing this year. I assume you guys can all read tables, so there's no need for me to list these teams from #18 to #1 based on their rating anymore. What this doesn't tell you, however, is how likely each team is to make the playoffs. For example, Atlanta and Manhattan have very similar rating, suggesting that they've played at roughly the same level - a fair assessment. However, the former's playoff chances are clearly much higher. Thus, without further ado, the results!

Oh wait, I lied. There is one further ado. Though the division performing the best during the interdivisional weeks will be rewarded with a 4th playoff spot, I couldn't find any procedure on how to break ties. Hence I simply left them unresolved until there's official word on this. If you're interested, of the 10000 simulated seasons there were 645 in which the East and West tied for the bonus spot, 96 in which the East and South tied, 136 in which the South and West tied, and 52 in which all three were deadlocked.

#18 - New England Nor'Easters: 0.07% chance of making playoffs

There's not too much to say here. New England is having, by any measure, a miserable season and their playoff dreams were likely over 3-4 weeks ago. They have an outside shot of sneaking in if they win out, Manhattan loses out, and the East gets the extra playoff spot. Let's put it another way - Carolina has a better chance of winning their division from 1-5 than New England has of getting into the postseason. Yeah... they're looking to 2015.

#17 - Boston Blitz: 0.58% chance of making playoffs

Boston is slightly better off since they're technically still within reach of the 3rd position, but even crawling back to 4th place is a huge stretch for them. Combine that with the fact that they haven't won a single match this year, and they're not exactly a prime candidate for a dark horse bet. They are, however, more than capable of playing the spoiler role, so they're not to be underestimated in their individual matches. We just won't see them in November.

#16 - Carolina Cobras: 3.38% chance of making playoffs

Carolina actually snagged the division in 9 of the simulations, which would certainly be a Cinderella story to remember. For a while this team seemed like they were just getting a streak of bad luck, and that they might be ready to make a power play if the South remained stagnant. All that disappeared with their whitewash last week against Atlanta, and right now they'd probably like to just get a couple of garbage-time points.

#15 - Los Angeles Vibe: 19.53% chance of making playoffs

There's a big jump here, as we move from the teams that are almost definitively out to the teams that have a fighting chance with some help. LA got off to a disasterous 0-3 start, but in fairness they were playing some of the stronger teams in the league. Since then they've stablized a bit, crawling back to 2/6 but still sitting at the bottom of the West. With a couple of key wins in the coming weeks, they might establish themselves as a serious threat - especially if the West takes the extra playoff spot. That said, their recent scoring has been very shaky (the legend of Korba grows), and they'll have to knock off a big player to be taken seriously. Their match against Manhattan is an opportunity to do just that.

#14 - Arizona Scorpions: 33.13% chance of making playoffs

This is another team that's chasing after the bonus playoff spot, a scenario that occurred 15.6% of the time. They've had their share of bad luck, but their season has been short of inspiring thus far. Nonetheless, they're currently tied for 4th, and thus have as good a chance as anyone to claim the wild card seed. GM Molner and IM Ginsburg have been workhorses on the top boards, significantly overperforming to keep this team's chances alive. However, they're being pushed around on the bottom boards as both FM Atoufi and WIM Mateer have horrible scores. If they can get someone performing there, they'll keep chances alive until the end

#13 - Connecticut Dreadnoughts: 35.80% chance of making playoffs

Time moves fast in the USCL! Just last week I was very happy with this team, and thought they'd be the frontrunner to take the Southern division. One loss to Miami later, and the resurgant South swallowed up their ship. Now they've dropped down to 5th, needing a big win over San Francisco this week just to get back into the mix - easier said than done! They do, however, have the benefit of getting to play Carolina and New England over the following two weeks, both of whom may very well be eliminated by that time. It'll be interesting to see if they can right the ship (haha puns), but to do that they need to stop getting pushed around on board 4.

#12 - Seattle Sluggers: 37.97% chance of making playoffs

The other team with their eye on the Western wild card position, the Sluggers rebounded to get back to, if they can win against Carolina tomorrow, an even score. In the West that may not go a long way, but it would certainly be an improvement. They, however, have what is probably the roughest closing schedule, facing off against Rio Grande, New Jersey, and Dallas, all of which are very likely playoff teams. If they can knock off one of their high-ranking division opponents they might even surge into one of the top few slots, but realistically they've got to hope for 4th.

#11 - Miami Sharks: 50.77% chance of making playoffs

Another big jump, as now we get to teams who are just on the cusp of playoff position. Miami has roared back from obscurity over the last two weeks, and they may even find themselves in playoff position this week. Nonetheless, they're closing out against some difficult (Baltimore, Dallas, Atlanta) teams, and it should be fun to watch them try and keep their winning streak intact. This is another team that has to resolve their bottom board woes, as GM Becerra has once again been the life of the team. 

#10 - Manhattan Applesauce: 54.02% chance of making playoffs

Manhattan's been a pretty good team this season, but not much more than that. Getting snagged by Boston last week not only hurt, it exposed their struggles on the top two boards. They rank close to last on both of those (a skewed stat because they haven't played this week yet, but not by that much), and will have to figure that out if they want to get back into the picture. They benefit from a pretty soft schedule to close out the season however, and none of their remaining four opponents have the firepower to expose this weakness. Personally I think they'll march past Philadelphia in the standings without too much trouble, and will have their eye on second.

#9 - Baltimore Kingfishers: 56.40% chance of making playoffs

Baltimore's always a solid team, but don't seem to make headlines very often. All of their boards have performed pretty much in the middle of the pack, and that's where their record put them. All that changed last week when they upset St. Louis to remind the division that they are alive and well. A win tomorrow against Arizona would send them all the way to second place in the division. Despite this, it's hard to really point at Baltimore and say "they look like a playoff squad". With Atlanta dominating the last two weeks and Miami also on the rise, I don't think we'll see them in November. 

#8 - Atlanta Kings: 66.57% chance of making playoffs

Over the last two weeks, Atlanta has gone from a mediocre expansion team to a truly scary squad. They came dangerously close to achieving the first consecutive 4-0 scores in the history of the league, denied only by a half point. Let's not tout them as league champions yet - their opposition was a big step down from what they'll have to get through en route to the postseason - but they're starting to find their rhythm. We'll see how they do against St. Louis and Rio Grande over the next two weeks - my guess is they'll be brought back down to Earth. 

#7 - Philadelphia Inventors: 77.24% chance of making playoffs

Philadelphia roared out to a stunning 4.5/5 start, but they've wilted in the absence of IM Tom Bartell. Having dropped two straight in embarrasing fashion, it's pretty clear that this percentage is heavily inflated. That said, they somehow managed to find ways to win despite being ridiculously outrated in the first half of the season, so it's hardly inconceivable that they'll pull something together in the coming weeks. For the moment they remain in playoff position, and next week's match against Manhattan may well decide the fate of the division. Until Bartell returns however, they better start looking for a second secret ingredient.

#6 - San Francisco Mechanics: 85.57% chance of playoffs, 21.47% of division win, 26.03% of second, 29.06% of third, 9.01% of wild card

Now we get to the teams that can already start planning out their November. San Francisco is a perennial powerhouse in the league, and them not making the playoffs is an unusual sight. This year, with potent threats on all 4 boards, they're undoubtedly looking for more. Though it's technically too early for them to count their chickens, it's really hard to imagine them being unseated by any of the bottom 3 western team. Hence their eye will be on the division crown, a spot that has been left within their grasp after Dallas and Rio Grande faltered yesterday. Their match next week against Dallas may well decide the division, though Rio will still have a say.

#5 - Rio Grande Opsreys: 88.74% chance of playoffs, 18.10% of division win, 33.81% of second, 28.36% of third, 9.47% of wild card

Rio had a crushing loss to New Jersey last week, despite GM Stripunsky blundering away a promising position in time pressure. This magnified the problems with their double GM lineup - unlike other teams with this strategy, they're struggling to count on their top two boards. The usual problems on the bottom two are also present, but that appears to be more of an availability issue than a major problem. All told, Rio will still have to prove themselves in the home stretch. That said, it's really difficult to imagine them actually missing the playoffs, but it's also hard to see them winning the division.

#4 - St. Louis Archbishops: 92.47% chance of playoffs, 52.72% of division win, 25.12% of second, 14.26% of third, 0.37% of wild card

Ok, we all knew St. Louis was going to waltz into the playoffs by week 3. The only team in the Southern division that looked like a serious contender, the Archbishops dual-nearly-2800 lineup looked absolutely untouchable. All that changed over the last couple of weeks, where Connecticut and Baltimore both exposed that even this lineup can have issues. Rating points don't win games! If GM So and GM Liem continue to be held to draws, it puts an unreasonable amount of pressure on their bottom boards to perform - bottom boards that have been pushed around all season. Last week's reshuffling was promising however, as St. Louis trounced Boston despite their top boards looking shaky. Given that their final opponents have absolutely no answer to the top 2 board ridiculousness, St. Louis is probably more interested in whether they'll finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the league.

#3 - New Jersey Knockouts: 92.88% chance of playoffs, 28.67% of division win, 35.13% of second, 26.58% of third, 2.5% of wild card

Two weeks ago, we were a team that was sticking around in playoff contention just because of a couple wins against weaker teams. At that point it looked like Manhattan would have the better side of a footrace for the 3rd position. Since then, the situation has drastically changed. 2 consecutive huge wins over Philadelphia and Rio Grande have vaulted us into second place, aided by Philadelphia's struggles. Suddenly, we're focusing more on playoff positioning than getting into the playoffs. Again, the USCL moves quickly! That said, our match against New York next week could either be a battle royale for the division crown, or evidence that we still have plenty of work to do to keep the postseason dreams alive. 

#2 - New York Knights: 96.84% chance of playoffs, 53.46% of division win, 25.44% of second, 16.76% of third, 1.18% of wild card

Raise your hands if you thought New York wasn't going to make the playoffs this year. There's a good reason none of you moved. With GM Kamsky finally finding his form, taking apart GM Ivanov and GM Sadorra in vintage Kamsky fashion, the Knights are simply the best team in the league right now. This is evidenced by their ridiculous 33.83% chance of grabbing the #1 overall seed, along with the fact that Dallas, a team that looked like championship favorites early on, needed late heroics just to hold on against them. Also they haven't even lost a single match this year. This team simply has no weaknesses, turning every single board into a strength - even board 2, where they are typically outmatched. They look like a championship team in the works.

#1 - Dallas Destiny: 98.75% chance of playoffs, 56.49% of division win, 25.88% of second, 10.81% of third, 3.02% of wild card

Last time I gave Dallas the nod over NY on the strength of their bottom two board's play. That's starting to taper off however, and it certainly doesn't help matters that IM Xiong has finally been proven to bleed. They're starting to look very vulnerable. That said, they are still one of the strongest teams in the league, and remain the frontrunners to win the Western division. NM Guadalupe II has been on an absolute tear this season, with a ridiculous 5/6 on board 3, and they really need to be milking that for all it's worth. If he can keep that kind of form up, he'll singlehandedly put Dallas in a great position for a championship run. 

Again, take all these percentages with a grain of salt. Teams are not created equal in the USCL, and ignoring that isn't a very good idea. But these should at least be good enough to establish a starting point, and the fact that the team ordering is roughly consistent with what we "know" about this year implies that it can't be that far off. Here's the breakdown of percentages (multiplied by 100 because integers) for all the teams, where cell (i,j) refers to the probability team i finishes in overall place j:

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Total
New York 3383 1529 434 1689 712 143 1118 492 66 118 9684
New Jersey 1495 1110 262 2023 1217 273 1579 812 267 250 9288
Philadelphia 541 514 208 1417 808 233 1827 1050 358 768 7724
Manhattan 201 239 84 839 486 160 1357 820 243 973 5402
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 7 47 58
New England 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 7
St. Louis 629 1413 3230 202 621 1689 196 492 738 37 9247
Atlanta 57 367 1487 94 540 1625 167 668 1538 114 6657
Baltimore 59 296 987 159 515 1383 178 686 1268 109 5640
Miami 17 195 660 110 376 1416 198 661 1315 129 5077
Connecticut 19 107 468 71 275 849 143 505 1029 114 3580
Carolina 0 0 9 0 3 72 11 51 156 36 338
Dallas 2213 2417 1019 963 1207 418 557 463 316 302 9875
Rio Grande 485 828 497 1217 1359 805 863 1128 745 947 8874
San Francisco 858 808 481 923 1208 472 966 1035 905 901 8557
Seattle 29 111 107 149 331 210 362 468 429 1601 3797
Arizona 11 55 48 112 240 168 335 428 354 1562 3313
Los Angeles 3 11 19 32 102 84 143 237 266 1056 1953

I'll try and recalculate all these after the end of next week. Until then! As usual, a huge thanks to our sponsors PokerStars and ICC!

UPDATE 10/9:

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Total
New York 3331 1544 322 1490 851 29 1338 474 22 186 9387
New Jersey 1385 1238 225 1815 1112 119 1679 967 149 309 8995
Manhattan 344 409 102 1380 870 94 1784 1125 99 955 7162
Philadelphia 441 535 124 1264 895 84 1508 975 80 1218 7124
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 25 25
New England 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
St. Louis 533 1300 4344 71 354 1831 37 191 774 3 9438
Atlanta 10 240 2065 31 68 2168 42 303 2105 28 7260
Miami 2 83 834 65 317 2191 32 330 1801 4 699
Baltimore 0 8 462 18 213 1617 36 258 2007 53 4672
Connecticut 0 0 114 1 29 664 30 171 327 32 2368
Carolina 0 0 5 0 0 162 0 34 522 32 3755
Dallas 2034 2360 613 1067 1409 223 831 825 173 312 9847
San Francisco 1562 1491 510 1458 1522 260 1005 1254 214 432 9708
Rio Grande 357 737 234 1145 1633 329 1176 1756 321 1238 8926
Arizona 1 54 46 196 430 144 570 953 263 2989 5646
Seattle 0 1 0 2 97 75 130 322 90 1480 2197
Los Angeles 0 0 0 0 0 0 10 2 53 664 791


-Alexander Katz