March 22, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share


Another Look at The Process

by Chris Dilks/Columnist

The NCAA tournament field was announced this past Sunday, and as usual, there was a bit of complaining about the process used to select the teams. I still don't think the Pairwise is a perfect measure, but I think the system came up with the right field this year.

What I've found funny about the majority of complaints with the NCAA tournament field is that they actually help prove why the Pairwise is the best system for college hockey. Most of the complaints take a few anecdotes while ignoring the rest of a team's season.

The beauty of the Pairwise is that it effectively measures the entire course of the season, making the value of each game equal. One single game may have been the difference between a team making, or not making the tournament, but it was the other 40 games that a team played that put them in that position to begin with.

It brings to mind one of my favorite lyrics from the rapper Mos Def. I hate to be like ESPN's John Buccigross and start quoting music, but it isn't every day that I can combine college hockey and hip-hop.

How did one straw break the camel's back?
Here's the secret:
There's a million other straws underneath it

One team that I've heard people complain about is Maine. They point out that Maine's only two wins in its last eight games were against lowly Merrimack, and that it lost four straight games to Massachusetts, which is seeded below it. The problem with this reasoning is that it completely ignores the other 29 games that Maine played.

Would it have been fair for the committee to say to Maine, "Nice job sweeping at North Dakota, beating Minnesota, and not losing a game until the middle of November, but those games didn't really count, so you don't get into the tournament"? Of course not. The system took all of the data, rather than just a select few bits of data, and determined that Maine belonged in the tournament, and should have been seeded ahead of Massachusetts.

It is the same argument, albeit in reverse, for North Dakota. People saw how well North Dakota was playing at the end of the season, and wondered why it ended up as a third seed. North Dakota may have had one of the best finishes in the country, but if you look at its entire season, it only had the 10th-best season, thanks to some lackluster play at the beginning of the year.

That doesn't mean the system is perfect. Perhaps North Dakota wouldn't have been as low if it hadn't been punished for beating Minnesota State so many times that it dropped the Mavericks out of the Team Under Consideration list, or if the Sioux's two wins over No. 1 Minnesota had counted more in the TUC category than two wins over the No. 25, or if their one bad weekend against Maine hadn't put them behind the 8 ball in the "Common Opponent" category with every Hockey East team.

But the Pairwise did its job, and I think that it is great for college hockey. It emphasizes the point that every single game, even the ones at the beginning of the season, is incredibly important. Coaches have to know, and have to stress to their players that every game could be the difference between having the season end early and making it to the NCAA tournament.

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