Assessing three-seed tiebreakers with Titans’ postseason future uncertain


If Detroit Mercy’s APR ban isn’t overturned, tiebreakers could dramatically impact the Horizon League Tournament

Despite earlier indications that Detroit Mercy’s saga with its APR ban had ended and the Titans were postseason eligible, news came out this week that the team’s postseason eligibility isn’t official. In turn, the hotly contested race for the three-seed in the Horizon League Tournament has some added drama. The most likely way that the Horizon League would handle Detroit Mercy being ruled ineligible would be to grant the three-seed a bye into the quarterfinals, as it announced it would before the season. This year, the league will re-seed in both the quarterfinals and the semifinals, so the three-seed would also get to play the worst-seeded quarterfinals opponent for a spot in the semifinals.

With a potential added round of rest and a theoretically easier second round opponent at stake, Saturday’s matchup between Green Bay and Milwaukee — the two teams currently in the best position for tiebreaker scenarios — might be the league’s most impactful game until Wright State visits Northern Kentucky to finish the regular season.

The Panthers and Phoenix entered the week tied with Youngstown State and UIC in the win column. Milwaukee, Green Bay and UIC are 7-6, while Youngstown was 7-5 before a win last night at Detroit. Both the Panthers and Phoenix are positioned very well in tiebreaker scenarios for completely different reasons. The Phoenix have done an very well at punching up at the league’s top teams, while the Panthers have remained in the hunt for third by beating everyone else competing for the spot.

The first factor in deciding tiebreakers in the Horizon League is head-to-head records. If two teams are tied, the team with the better record gets the higher seed. If they split the series it goes on to the next tiebreaker. If more than two teams are tied, their records in each head-to-head are added up into one record and they’re seeded accordingly. The most memorable instance of this was in 2011 when Milwaukee, Butler and Cleveland State tied for the Horizon League Regular Season Title. The Panthers swept Butler and went 1-1 against Cleveland State. Butler swept Cleveland State. As a result, Milwaukee was 3-1 against the other two, Butler was 2-2 and Cleveland State was 1-3. The Panthers got the one-seed and hosted the tournament, Butler got the two-seed and a double-bye into the semifinals and the Vikings had to play an extra pair of games. Butler wound up beating Milwaukee for the automatic bid and wound up going all the way to the National Championship.

If there’s a tie in head-to-head records the next tiebreaker is how well each team did against other teams in the league, starting with the best teams. So if Team A beat the regular season champion and Team B didn’t, Team A gets the better seed. If the records were the same and the tie couldn’t be broken, records against the next team in the standings would be considered until the teams had different results against a single opponent.

Green Bay is currently in third place in our Horizon League Power Rankings thanks to the team’s ability to take down each of the league’s top two teams. The Phoenix trounced Northern Kentucky on the road early in league play when it seemed like the Norse were still figuring out how to play without injured Dantez Walton. When Wright State and NKU made the return trip to Wisconsin in the second half of the league schedule, the Phoenix knocked off the Raiders. As a result, any tiebreaker scenario with identical head-to-head records is likely to be decided in favor of the Phoenix.

Which brings us to Milwaukee’s strength in tiebreakers. The Panthers don’t have any flashy wins, but have managed to stay in the race for the three-seed with a 4-0 record against the other three contenders. Milwaukee completed the season sweep of UIC last weekend and hold road victories over Green Bay and Youngstown State. A victory this weekend would put the Panthers in a very powerful spot in tiebreakers, as any multi-team tie would allow Milwaukee to add two to the head-to-head win column without adding a loss. In the process, it would put pressure on Youngstown State to beat one of the league’s top two teams, as even a season split with Milwaukee wouldn’t help the Penguins much in tiebreakers if it came down to both teams’ records against Green Bay or UIC.

Youngstown State’s current advantage is in the standings. After Thursday night’s victory, the Penguins have a one-game lead over the other three teams in question. But Youngstown’s remaining schedule is the most difficult of any of the four teams vying for third. Youngstown hosts the league’s first and second place teams Wright State and Northern Kentucky next week before traveling to Wisconsin to end the season. While the Penguins currently control their own destiny, winning out would be an incredible feat that seems highly unlikely right now.

UIC’s strength in tiebreaker scenarios depends heavily on this weekend’s results. With a road win at Wright State tonight, UIC would have a strong tiebreaker of its own with a 2-0 record against the league’s top team, but in the process could cost WSU first place and add value to Green Bay’s win over Northern Kentucky. That doesn’t even address the fact that Wright State is 7-0 at home in league play, with only two of those wins coming by less than 12 points. If the Flames do manage to pull off the upset, they’ll quickly become Green Bay fans for the weekend. Any tiebreaker scenario that involves Milwaukee and its 2-0 record against UIC is unlikely to end favorably. If the Flames don’t manage a win this weekend, the team will have 8 league losses and even three home games against the bottom three teams in the league might not be enough to contend for third place with all of the tiebreaker disadvantages.

Of course, it’s possible that the information Don Owen received in December is correct and Detroit Mercy officials are presently unable to comment. That certainly seems to be how Linc Darner is approaching things and if it’s the case then the stakes are much lower, as the race for third becomes more about playing a theoretically weaker opponent in the first round.

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