I haven't been doing hockey previews this year because hockey kind of evaporated there for a long time and when it came back I didn't want to pick up the baton again just to tell you the things you could learn by going to the team page of opponent X on College Hockey Stats. So I'm going to morph this into a status update/preview thing with a new format. A work in progress.
[At right: an understandably perplexed Red Berenson. Bill Rapai photo]
Michigan at Minnesota
Friday: 9 PM Eastern
Saturday: 8 PM Eastern
college hockey lines, junkie?
State Of The Bid
State Of The Pairwise
The Pairwise rankings got revamped in the offseason, yet again. Like the BCS rankings, each iteration drops more and more stuff until you're left with something simple but unsatisfying. This iteration dumped the "teams under consideration" factor entirely. Now everyone is under consideration, even Michigan State.
The only factors left:
head to head
Since RPI breaks all ties, Pairwise comparisons against teams you haven't played devolve to a straight RPI comparison. The only way for the PWR to deviate from straight RPI is for you to be –2 in head to head or lose head to head and common opponents. This happens once in Michigan's 58 comparisons, as Michigan's grim loss to Western in the GLI lets their superior COP play. But since the tiebreaker for tied teams is the individual comparison, and the tiebreaker for multiple tied teams is RPI the only way that hurts Michigan is if Western is one of the teams right next to them in the standings.
Nowadays, PWR == RPI to a 95% confidence. At this instant the PWR follows RPI to the letter save for Colgate ranking in front of Maine.
So it's kind of dumb now, because RPI is dumb. But it was kind of dumb before, what with teams popping above or below an arbitrary cutoff point radically altering the standings up until the last day of the season*. Meanwhile, the RPI is different but perhaps equally as dumb this year, as an attempt to reform it brought about these changes:
Road wins and home losses are weighted by a factor of 1.2; Road losses and home wins are weighted by a factor of 0.8.
Points get added for "quality" wins against the top 20 according to RPI.
It seems like the first change is an effort to prevent Big Ten teams from larding their 14 nonconference games with a ton of home outings. In the NHL, teams get about 55% of their points at home. There is some advantage to balance, but the change seems to make the system as biased in favor of the road team as it was in favor of the home team.
Meanwhile, the quality win bonus is the kind of thing you find stapled on to systems people know don't work but are trying to ad-hoc themselves into something that looks like it works right. The upshot of that change is that you'd rather beat Wisconsin and lose to Penn State than vice versa, and hey look maybe the team already knows this. Do they know that you'd rather beat both Penn State and Wisconsin? Someone tell them this.
Right. So now…
*[WORTHLESS ASIDE: Back in the days when I could stand the USCHO message boards there was one guy who responded to all the valid complaints about the volatility of the PWR system by claiming that the system was not volatile because it only existed on the day the field was selected. Eventually it became clear that this was not the guy being willfully obtuse. He actually believed this.
He had something like 100k posts by the time I left, and is probably heading towards a million now. In other news, a virus that wiped the hard drives of everyone who had posted on USCHO in the past year would increase the average IQ of the internet by 20%.]
State Of The Bid
RPI is everything now; Michigan is tenth in RPI and tenth in the PWR, which would have them comfortably in as a three-seed. Michigan has a comfortable gap over the #11 team in RPI; they're closer to 6th than 11th.
Unfortunately, the RPI changes have blown up the exceedingly useful Sioux Sports feature that would let you know approximately what your RPI would be if you won X of your remaining Y games, because that's impossible to predict with the quality win bonuses.
Michigan has just one team with any of those win bonuses on tap, but they're big ones: Minnesota. Four games against the currently #2 RPI team in the country offer the potential of reward if Michigan can even split; meanwhile a home series at Penn State is a minefield waiting to happen, as is a home and home with dismal MSU. OSU is in the middle. Eyeballing it, 6-4 down the stretch would probably be good enough to keep them in the tourney as long as they got something off of the Gophers.
On the positive end, short of doing something like take three from the Gophers and run the table the rest of the way, a one-seed is out of the question. Moving up to a two is very doable; as mentioned, a couple of bumps the right way in the PWR and they'll be the top #2.
State Of The Hockey
You tell me, man. Michigan followed a grim four-game skid with a sweep of MSU that was filled with fortunate bounces and even gameplay, and playing MSU even is really bad news. Then they swarm Wisconsin, unfortunate to not sweep the Badgers one weekend before they sweep the Gophers. Everything's going just peachy after a 7-3 win against Penn State on Friday, and then… splat.
Saturday's 4-0 loss to Penn State was alarming on multiple levels. Nagelvoort gave up two awful bad angle goals that squeezed through his five hole, and all of a sudden it was last year all over again.
The only thing we've learned about this year's team is nothing. On an individual level you've got certain guys performing and certain guys not; on a week-to-week basis you could get anything from a throat-crushing of a top-ten team to one million unchecked guys running through your own slot.
Nieves is the modern day Milan Gajic.
There are two primary issues: lack of production from Michigan's cadre of highly touted, veteran scoring-line wings and the defense. These have been the issues all year, and they are compounding as the year progresses. Boo Nieves is stuck on one goal; Phil Di Giuseppe has five. Guptill is doing a bit better, but the team has exactly one player cracking a PPG, JT Compher.
The team struggles immensely to generate scoring chances at even strength. I'm not sure if it's a lack of confidence or effort, but watching every rush end with a shot from the top of the circle is beginning to wear, as is Michigan's total inability to complete a pass on a two on one. The skill guys on this roster don't have much in the way of skill. Meanwhile, the offensive ability of the defensive corps can be summed up like so: Kevin Clare (career goals: 3) is one of two D who play on the power play.
The defense kind of is what it is. We knew that it was going to be shaky going in, and then Kevin Lohan got knocked out for most of the season. Not getting even one player in the all-conference discussion from Guptill/Di Giuseppe/Nieves/Moffatt is what's really hurting Michigan. The days when a random nondescript forward became an impact player as a junior/senior seem pretty far away.
But all I wanted them to do at the beginning of the year is make the tourney and they're on track to do that.
You just got Skjei'd. No, I don't know how to pronounce it either.
Minnesota is perennially packed with talent and occasionally plays like it; this is one of those years. Despite the sweep last weekend they're still locked into a one seed at 19-4-5. Both of those losses were 2-1 affairs in which Minnesota outshot Wisconsin, in one case badly. Their sole other losses were at Notre Dame and against UMD; they have had inexplicable difficulty with MSU, going 2-0-2 with two one-goal wins.
There is no one scoring star. Minnesota has nobody averaging a PPG. They do have piles and piles of depth, with five guys over 20 points already and four more over 16. They roll three true scoring lines.
If there is a star, it's a guy who is nowhere to be found on point lists: defenseman Brady Skjei. (Skjei is somehow pronounced "Shea," in case you're wondering where this Skedge guy is on the broadcast.) Shea, a sophomore, was a first round pick last offseason and was the cornerstone of the World Junior defense corps. He's got size, strength, and defensive skill. He is legit.
Goaltending has been excellent, with sophomore Adam Wilcox a true #1—his backup has 84 minutes on the season. He's got a .930, which places in him a tie for 11th with Nagelvoort*.
Michigan's six points back of the Gophers and can tie for the conference lead with a sweep. Good luck with that. For RPI/tourney purposes, a split would be super.
*[Expand the nets. There are 12 out of 82 qualifying goalies with a .930, 28 with a .920, 47 with a .910, and a whopping 62 with a .900. Goalies are too good.]