Sports

WHITROCK: Top dogs, by the numbers

It’s early November. The air is getting colder and the recently installed grass-like substance on Nickerson Field is beckoning. Yeah, you know what time it is.

It’s football season. No, the other football ‘-‘- the one you play with your feet. That one.

Of course, I’m not trying to discount the American version ‘-‘- it’s my favorite sport. There’s nothing more American than tossing around the old pigskin. Maybe apple pie.

But it’s November. The National Football League doesn’t transition into its ‘second season’ for nearly two months. Plus, my beloved Giants are in the driver’s seat right now, so I can afford to look away and think about footie for a bit.

And for soccer ‘-‘- NCAA soccer, anyway ‘-‘- the playoffs are underway. What’s better than playoffs?

Winning in the playoffs, that’s what. With both Terrier soccer teams earning the top seed in the America East Tournament, confidence is as high as ever. And deservedly so ‘-‘- no AE school has captured both regular-season crowns since BU managed the feat in 2001.

It makes sense for the top seeds to be confident. After all, a top seed is recognition of a team’s successes in the regular season, specifically against the opponents it expects to face in the tournament. The question is, how does the top seed fare come tournament time? And should the men’s team be more confident than the women’s team, or vice versa?

The women’s team has one obvious leg up on its male counterpart, having already won its semifinal contest. The women also have Fans’ Choice Player of the Year Marisha Schumacher-Hodge, a valuable asset who provided the semifinal game-winner in the 54th minute.

However, neither of the above provides any significant commentary about the value of being the top seed. For that, history ‘-‘- and the numbers history provides ‘-‘- offers some insight.

America East has existed for a dozen years (longer if you include its predecessor, the North Atlantic Conference). In that time, there have been two dozen top seeds ‘-‘- 12 each for the women’s and men’s competitions. Fifteen of those top seeds, or slightly more than 60 percent, have won the AE championship; a 16th, last year’s BU women’s team, split the regular-season title and won the tournament as the second seed.

Looking at the women’s and men’s tournaments separately decreases the sample size somewhat, but is ultimately more revealing. The top seed in the women’s tournament has been dominant. Each of the last 11 AE Tournament champions held at least a share of the regular-season title. The only exception came in the conference’s first year, when top-seeded Vermont was upset by eventual champion Towson ‘-‘- and it took four overtimes plus penalty kicks to conquer the Catamounts.

The men’s side of the conference has a more competitive history. Only five top seeds have captured the AE Tournament crown. While regular-season champions still enjoy a historical edge over the competition, any of the top four seeds has a realistic chance at the title.

The men’s tournament results reflect the regular-season results ‘-‘- no men’s team has gone undefeated in AE since current Colonial Athletic Association member Hofstra did so in 1997. Even then, the Pride couldn’t carry its hot streak into the tournament, as the Terriers came away with the title.

Speaking of undefeated teams, what does conference record say about a title contender? The women ran away from the pack, while the men had to fight their way to the top ‘-‘- but does it matter?

The answer, once again, depends on which side of the conference you’re talking about. For the women, going undefeated in conference play provides obvious benefits should the Terriers reach the NCAAs, but in the AE Tournament being an undefeated top seed isn’t any better than being a more ordinary top seed.

Of course, top seeds have had their way on the women’s half of the bracket, but the aforementioned Vermont team that lost to Towson went 7-0-0 in conference play.

On the men’s side, record seems to make a bit more of a difference. Runaway champs don’t seem to do well ‘-‘- see Hofstra circa 1997. Neither do the weakest of the No. 1 seeds, as 5-3-0 Binghamton proved last year by losing to Vermont. But the more typical No. 1 seeds have generally been successful.

All five AE men’s teams with both regular-season and tournament titles finished with between 18 and 20 points and either one or two losses in conference play ‘-‘- impressive totals, but never more than two points more than the next-closest contender.

The pattern that emerges makes sense. Teams that struggle their way to the No. 1 seed generally don’t prove to be deserving of the honor, and teams that dominate in conference play are often primed for a letdown come tourney time.

Wait, you mean the undefeated team doesn’t always coast to a playoff title? Sounds like a football team I’ve heard of.

No, the other football.

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