USCHO's Jayson Moy;s latest Bracketology article came out Tuesday. Noticably absent from his NCAA tournament field were the red-hot Michigan State Spartans.
I don't have a problem with that. The system is designed to look at every game, instead of just individual games, so stuff like that is bound to happen. But it's more the way that that happened that exposes a pretty big flaw in the system.
The RPI, the NCAA's preferred method of selecting teams for NCAA tournaments says Michigan State is a better team than North Dakota and Colorado College But the PWR says that North Dakota and Colorado College belong in the tournament while MSU does not.
Again, in and of itself, not a huge problem. The real problem lies with the Pairwise's "Team Under Consideration" category.
Michigan State only has a 5-6-0 record against TUCs, which causes them to lose their comparison with BC(7-7-0 vs. TUCs), Vermont(7-8-0 vs. TUCs), North Dakota(12-9-1 vs. TUCs), and Colorado College(11-8-1 vs. TUCs) despite having a higher RPI. Most people wouldn't have a huge problem with that. They'd say MSU should have won more games against quality teams.
But what exactly is a quality team? The PWR only looks at the top 25 teams in the RPI, which is an arbitrary number. Who is to say that team number 25 is a worthy opponent, while team number 26 is not.
A big reason that Michigan State has a poor record against TUCs is that Nebraska Omaha and Lake Superior have recently fallen out of the top 25 in the RPI. MSU is 1-0-1 against UNO and 2-0 vs. LSSU, meaning MSU lost 3 wins and 1 tie from their TUC category.
There's a perfect example of how significant that it is. The NCAA arbitrarily assigns a hidden RPI bonus for quality road wins. It's generally accepted that the bonus is somewhere around .003. Lake Superior, who is currently 27th in the RPI, is one of the teams to get that bonus. If the RPI bonus was changed from .003 to .0061, which is just enough to push Lake Superior into the 25th spot in the RPI, making them a TUC, Michigan State would go from 14th in the PWR and not in the NCAA tournament, to tied for 8th in the PWR.
The whole point of the PWR is to take the human element out of things, but look at how much movement there is just based on where a human decided to draw the line on what is a good team and how much a human decided a quality win was worth.
The TUC comparison in the Pairwise means that the NCAA tournament field is decided, in large part by the teams in the 20-30 spots in the RPI as much as the teams that are actually competing for an NCAA tournament bid. Winning would certainly help Colorado College this weekend. But just as important would be Minnesota State beating North Dakota, because a Minnesota State loss might push them into 26th in the RPI, meaning Colorado College would lose a valuable 2 wins in the TUC category.
The difference between #25 and #26 isn't the TUCs only problem. The other problem is that there is no difference between #25 and #1. There's little doubt that the WCHA has been the best conference in college hockey this year. But what has made their teams so good is not necessarily the top teams, but the ability of the bottom half of their conference to sneak into the TUC category.
For example, Minnesota State has played 22 games against TUCs, but 12 of those games have come against teams in the top 5 in the RPI. Colorado College, meanwhile, has played 20 games against TUCs so far, but 10 of them have come against teams 17th or lower in the RPI. The problem is that MSU's games against the top five teams count the same as CC's games against lower ranked TUCs. The TUC category is probably the only place in the world where someone will tell you it's just as easy to beat Minnesota as it is to beat Minnesota State.
The teams in the top 15 that are competing for NCAA tournament bids should generally have an advantage over the teams in the 20-25 range. So whichever conference gets the most teams in that range should have an advantage over the other conferences.
This is not an argument for a human-selected tournament field. That's definitely not a good idea. But I think it's also time to examine the formula for deciding the field. Ironically, the simplest solution to this problem that I've seen came from math-guru Alton Hollingsworth who proposed that every team is compared each other, with head-to-head being the sole factor, and the RPI being the tiebreaker in case the two teams haven't played. It's simple, and there's no arbitrary demarcation lines.
(NOTE: Some of this was made moot on Thursday night when UMass-Lowell beat Northeastern, hurting BC and helping St. Lawrence just enough to allow Michigan State to pass Boston College in the PWR.)