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 how the grid stands after Monday's Beanpot games. If you're new to the experience, here is a primer on how the Pairwise Rankings, used to the select the NCAA tournament field, work.
Coming into the weekend, UMass-Lowell was sitting in what one would assumed was a pretty comfortable 7th place in the Pairwise rankings. Just a few days later, they now sit at 18th in the Pairwise. What happened to the Riverhawks?
First off, though the Riverhawks were sitting in 7th to start the weekend, there was a dark cloud looming on the horizon for them, in the form of a terrible 2-6-0 record against Teams Under Consideration. That was easily the worst record of teams in the tournament, but because of a rule that says teams have to play ten games against TUCs in order for that comparison to count, the Riverhawks were temporarily shielded from the damage that poor record caused. But playing, and losing 1-0, against Merrimack on Friday gave the Riverhawks a 9th game against TUCs, and Massachusetts, who had played UML once earlier this season--a game UML won-- also snuck above the TUC cliff, giving the Riverhawks that 10th game, and pushing their TUC record into effect. Add in the triple whammy of also giving up two leads and losing on a late overtime goal to Maine on Sunday, and it explains why Lowell dropped so far, so quickly.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that playing in Hockey East, Lowell was going to have well over 10 games played against TUCs eventually. Their last nine games are all against teams that are currently TUCs. Taking this tumble from their artificially high ranking early gives them time to adjust and react. Then again, the fact that they've done so poorly against top teams may mean the Riverhawks are just starting to regress to their mean.
Minnesota State had the weekend off, but made the move from 16th, the last team out of the tournament, all the way up to 12th in the PWR. The Mavericks sat at home and benefited from a terrible weekend for teams sitting around the tournament bubble. The most important win of the weekend for MSU was Rensselear upsetting Dartmouth 3-0 on Saturday night. The loss dropped Dartmouth's RPI below MSU, and was enough to bump Rensselear, a team Minnesota State is 1-0-1 against, above the TUC line.
Notre Dame, a team that looked destined for a one seed at the beginning of January, lost and tied to Ferris State. They temporarily dropped outside the tourney bubble, but moved back into the last spot thanks to Lowell's loss to Maine on Sunday. Alaska remains in the tournament, despite the 19th best RPI, but lost some of their PWR magic, after dropping a pair of games to Miami and slipped to 14th. And finally, Boston University's loss to UMass on Friday, followed by getting upset by Northeastern in Monday's Beanpot also dropped the Terriers below the Mavericks. The net effect probably gives Minnesota State an extra loss to play with in their final eight games and still be in the territory for an at-large tourney bid heading into conference playoffs.
In this week's Niagara watch, the Purple Eagles won a pair of games against Bentley, which doesn't really impress anyone, except for the computers, apparently. Niagara moved up from 17th to 9th in the Pairwise. Niagara is 2-2-0 against TUCs, with just two future games against TUCs. Theoretically, past opponents Bowling Green and Mercyhurst could creep in as well, but it seems highly unlikely Niagara gets to the 10 games necessary for their TUC record to count.
Normally, it's not worth looking into match-ups inside the tournament because every game is about a 50/50 coin flip regardless, but in looking at the current grid, you have to ask yourself if you'd rather be ranked 8th right now, and face Niagara in the first round, or ranked 7th and have to face North Dakota.
And finally, this week in outlying comparisons that are making me seethe: St. Cloud is 8th in RPI but loses a comparison to 17th RPI Union because Union is about a half a game better in TUC and is undefeated against their only common opponent with St.Cloud. Northern Michigan is 23rd in the RPI and nobody's idea of a tournament team, but their mastery of WCHA teams in non-conference play helps give them comparison wins against Denver and Minnesota, both in the top 12 of the RPI.