As we enter the home stretch of the college hockey season, it's time to start paying closer attention to the Pairwise Rankings, the computer rankings that choose the field for the NCAA tournament.
Here is the grid, as it stands today. For those new to the experience, here's a breakdown of just how the Pairwise Rankings work.
And here is a look at how some of last week's games shaped the way the PWR looks right now.
-Quinnipiac, in the midst of a national best 14-0-2 unbeaten streak, had the weekend off last weekend. But thanks to New Hampshire's 6-5 loss to Providence, and Boston College losing to UMass on Friday night, the Bobcats moved into the top overall spot in the Pairwise rankings. With regional sites set long in advance(and New Hampshire locked into the Northeast regional regardless of where they finish), and there being virtually no difference in quality of opponents, especially in a one-game tournament scenario, the honor is largely a ceremonial one, but it is a nice honor for the relatively new program from Connecticut to sit atop the college hockey world.
-National rankings are different from conference rankings, but it is worth noting that Northern Michigan came into last weekend sitting dead last in the CCHA. But with last weekend's sweep of Ohio State, the Wildcats now sit tied for 15th in the Pairwise, just a shade outside of the NCAA tournament bubble. The key to the Wildcats success was an outstanding 6-1-0 non-conference record, all against WCHA teams, and all but one of those games against Teams Under Consideration. Next weekend, they'll head up to Fairbanks to take on Alaska, who is also a pretty nice story as well. The Nanooks were picked to finish last in the league by the CCHA's media, but currently sit tied for 17th in the Pairwise, thanks to four straight wins, including a sweep over Notre Dame. A decisive victory in that series by either team could springboard them to a potential at-large tournament bid.
-One story fans across college hockey, and especially fans of teams on the NCAA tournament bubble, will be keeping a close eye on down the stretch is what is happening in Atlantic Hockey. Niagara came into the weekend ranked 14th in the Pairwise, but split a series at Holy Cross, dropping them into a tie for 17th. Why is that significant? If Niagara ends up outside of the top 15 of the Pairwise, Atlantic Hockey is guaranteed only one bid with the automatic qualifier from their conference. If the Purple Eagles end up inside the top 15, and fail to win their conference tournament, the league would end up taking two NCAA tournament spots.
-Boston University provided a good look at how fickle the computers can be. They entered the weekend at a comfortable 5th overall in the Pairwise, but lost a pair of games to Northeastern and UMass-Lowell and came out of the weekend at 13th in the Pairwise.
-Wisconsin and Miami faced off in one of the last major non-conference series of the year last weekend. Miami bounced back from a 1-0 defeat on Friday to split the series with the Badgers. Because they split, the effect on the Pairwise was pretty minimal. The Badgers stayed at 26th in the Pairwise, and need a near miraculous run to have a chance at an at-large bid. Miami dropped from 8th to 10th in the Pairwise, which theoretically moves them from wearing a home jersey to an away jersey in the first round of the tournament, but otherwise, doesn't have much impact. They're pretty safely in the tournament barring a meltdown in the last month and a half of the season.
-Which outlying comparisons are making me seethe this week? Dartmouth(.5470 RPI) loses the comparison to UMass(.5014 RPI), despite their being absolutely zero need to compare those two teams against each other. Lake Superior's half game advantage over St. Cloud in the TUC category negates St. Cloud's 4-ish game advantage in RPI, and wins the comparison for Lake Superior. Luckily, none of the outliers have any effect on the tournament field this week.