Bracket ABCs: February Edition
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
This year's first edition of Bracket ABCs — Analysis, Breakdowns, Comparisons — comes in late February because, outside of the game results themselves, there isn't a lot of intrigue to the Pairwise.
As we said last year, the machinations of the Pairwise are so slimmed down these days that there are fewer arcane nuances to decipher. There are only three criteria, and the RPI is the dominant consideration because it's also the tiebreaker. And one of the criteria is head-to-head, but not all teams play head-to-head, of course.
As a result, all that's left to talk about, really, is the relative odds of certain teams moving up or down. And a look ahead at where the seeds might shake down, and whether that provides any intrigue — of which, there is certainly some.
College Hockey News is also announcing the rollout of a beta version of its new Pairwise Player. This is a tool for users to make it easier to see the Pairwise, and its various related details, on mobile devices. Stay tuned for more information.
1-2. Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State
Quinnipiac is in a rare situation these days. It has an RPI that's below St. Cloud's, but because of two head-to-head wins, and because there's only 3 criteria to the Pairwise these days, it wins the direct comparison. That pushes Quinnipiac into the No. 1 spot, with St. Cloud No. 2. It's not going to make much difference. Quinnipiac will most likely be the No. 1 seed in the Albany Regional, though it could be Worcester, depending upon what the Committee decides to do. St. Cloud State will be No. 1 in either the St. Paul or Cincinnati Regional, depending on whether it remains in this slot, ahead of North Dakota.
If St. Cloud State remains ahead of North Dakota, it will have its pick of locations, and go to St. Paul.
But for these two teams, it doesn't matter a whole lot who is ahead of who. The difference would be that the top overall seed will play the Atlantic Hockey champ, most likely, while the No. 2 overall seed will play the WCHA champ. Perhaps a difference, but given that the Atlantic Hockey champ knocked off the No. 1-seeded WCHA champ in last year's NCAAs, how much will it really matter?
Quinnipiac is in more danger of losing comparisons to the next few teams than to St. Cloud. And those losses could knock them down the charts farther than St. Cloud could go. So a No. 1 seed is far from a certainty yet for QU if it loses a few games here. It starts this weekend with a pivotal tilt against No. 7 Yale.
3-5. Boston College, North Dakota, Providence
The BC-North Dakota comparison is a good example of why nothing really matters much anymore except the RPI. Boston College has beaten every single common opponent the two teams have. 1.000 winning percentage. North Dakota can't catch it. But the difference in RPI is only .0002. And if North Dakota catches Boston College there, then the Common Opponents record doesn't matter. The teams haven't played head to head, and that leaves just two criteria, with RPI being one of them and also the tiebreaker. So nothing matters but that. For better or for worse.
Given the way these teams are playing, the two other No. 1 seeds will likely come from this group. North Dakota could wind up in Cincinnati, bringing is throngs there, while one of the other team is the top seed in Worcester.
6-7. Michigan, Yale
Michigan could be a No. 1 seed, but will have it tough because of its strength of schedule compared to the teams above. A couple of them would have to falter badly, and there's only so many games left. In fact, just one regular-season weekend for the Hockey East teams, and then one best-of-3 playoff series before their conference final four.
Yale has been sneaking back up the charts with a seven-game win streak. It plays Quinnipiac this weekend. A win would be a big boost, but not quite enough for a top seed. If Yale runs the table, a No. 1 seed it possible. But it's probably the only possibility.
8-9-10. Denver, Notre Dame, Boston University
These teams all have the same amount of commparisons won (51). That's because Boston University, despite the lowest RPI among this group, has beaten Denver head to head, and also is 1-0 against Wisconsin while Denver has a tie against Wisconsin. So BU wins the Common Opponents and thus the comparison. None of that matters at the moment because the team-to-team tiebreaker is also the RPI, so that's why BU is still last among this bunch.
Not sure it makes much of a difference if you are a No. 2 seed or a No. 3 seed at this point. There's currently a fairly even balance between Eastern and Western teams, so there may not be much shuffling of teams needed.
This is the line where teams — barring a ton of conference tournament upsets — are fairly secure in their NCAA bid at this point. Below here, it gets more questionable. BU and Notre Dame only have one league weekend remaining, which means, at most, they can only lose four more times before Selection day, which won't happen anyway, most likely.
11-12-13. Nebraska-Omaha, Harvard, Massachusetts-Lowell
This is where it starts to get dicey, especially when you consider the remaining schedules for these three teams. UNO has a pair at home against North Dakota, then two at Denver, followed by what will likely be a tough first-round NCNC playoff matchup. Harvard is at Clarkson and St. Lawrence for games this weekend, then a first-round ECAC bye, followed by what should be a tough playoff series at home. Lowell has a home-and-home with Boston College this weekend, which will determined whether it gets a bye in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs. If it doesn't, it should have a relatively easy first-round series.
This gives all of these teams the potential to move up, but also to slip a few spots and out of the tournament. It remains to be seen.
14-15-16. Cornell, Penn State, Minnesota
The true bubble. It's far from a guarantee the No. 14 slot would even get in the tournament. These teams are going to need to string together some wins. Cornell hasn't been able to do that in a while, but the fact that it's still in the hunt is a testament to some good early-season wins and the ECAC's good overall strength of schedule. It's another tough weekend to close out the regular season, against Rensselaer and Union. A slip there and that could be the end for Cornell. A good weekend could propel the Big Ren into a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs, where then a tough quarterfinal matchup would await.
Penn State and Minnesota still have a few weeks left in the Big Ten regular-season schedule, so much still has to shake out. Minnesota actually has a better RPI than Penn State, but loses comparisons to teams way down the Pairwise chart such as Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State and Bemidji State, thanks to poor head-to-head showings against those teams. That limits how far up Minnesota can go. The Gophers are going to have to win a bunch of games down the stretch and hope for help. Same goes for Penn State, really, as it looks to make the NCAAs for the first time.
If neither makes a move, then the Big Ten will have only one team in the tournament again.
Cornell getting in could mean four ECAC teams in the tournament, which would be another accomplishment for the conference that has two of the last three national champs.
17-18. Miami, Michigan Tech
Miami is currently one game under .500, and wouldn't even be eligible for the NCAAs under those circumstances. Of course, despite a great strength of schedule that's even helping it be possible to be this high, Miami would still need to finish a few games over .500 to even be in the top 14. It's been an up and down year for Miami, that's for sure, but it has some "good wins," that have helped. It has two home games against Colorado College this weekend, so if it takes care of business, it could make a move back up. At one point last weekend, Miami was in the top 14, briefly.
Michigan Tech is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Miami, so it's interesting that the two are so close together on the Pairwise chart. Tech has a great won-loss record at 17-8-5, but a not-so-good strength of schedule and a Quality Win Bonus of only .0006, the lowest of any team in the Top 28. By contrast, Miami's QWB is .0056, which is better than all but five teams in the country.
19-20-21. Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, Dartmouth
At one point, it looked like the ECAC could get five teams in the tournament. But this group, along with Clarkson, Union and even Brown, have been knocking the heck out of each other, making it hard for anyone to on a run. They have all had their hot stretch and their moments, and some good wins, but just not enough of them. If one of these teams does get hot down the stretch, it would probably come at the expense of Cornell (and each other), meaning the ECAC will max out at four possibly, but possibly even just three at this point (and Harvard is still not guaranteed either).
Other teams below here have been hot at times, and are not technically eliminated, but chances are slim. CHN will produce its Pairwise Probability Matrix soon that will give everyone a better idea at the exact odds for all teams.