Insanely too long, but I fell down the rabbit hole on this one.
There is an annual complaint against the Pairwise when Team X is passed over in favor of considerably less deserving team Y. This is an exercise in pointlessness, but I was curious as to what a tournament that's selected by eyeballing it would look like. Let's pretend I'm the committee and put 16 teams together.
Boston College, North Dakota, Cornell, Michigan, Alabama-Huntsville, and RIT.
Denver and Miami have the top two records in the country against the #8 and #14 schedules. Wisconsin and St. Cloud are 3 and 6 in RPI and have top ten records against top ten schedules.
THE EXCESSIVELY LARGE BUBBLE
||Third place tie
||Round of eight
||Round of eight
Those are the next ten teams in the RPI, the shiniest record remaining after that, and the team KRACH says should be in the tourney that isn't anywhere near these teams in RPI.
Of the above teams the first one off the board is Northern Michigan. The Wildcats have the best TUC record by far of any team with a significant number of games played, a strong RPI, and the best combination of record and schedule strength. NMU is 7-2-5 against this cohort.
Bemidji State is next with their excellent RPI and 7-5-2 record against a 14-game slate of WCHA and CCHA opponents that included a three-point weekend against Northern, a sweep of UMD, and a win over Miami.
And we will take Yale as a 20-9-3 ECAC champ even if KRACH thinks they are worse than eight WCHA teams.
Now we get down to the tough decisions. Three spots left for eight teams. They come in three sets:
- High RPI: Ferris State, UMD, UNH.
- Low RPI: Vermont, Michigan State, CC, Union, Minnesota
- Straddling: Alaska
Minnesota is mostly included to show how broken KRACH is as a real world selection device. In its world, an under .500 WCHA team that finished seventh in its conference, went 5-3 OOC and has a horrible TUC record would be a three seed. There is an NCAA rule prohibiting teams under .500 from getting at-large bids after Wisconsin pulled that trick off a couple years ago. They're dropped.
Next, we shoot down Michigan State. There are two CCHA teams with big RPI advantages on them. Both have better records against basically equivalent schedules. Taking them would mean taking the other two CCHA teams and having six in the tourney, something that can't be justified given the relative nonconference results.
We also shoot down CC, which didn't do anything in the nonconference or playoffs to disprove the idea it's a below average WCHA team. CC's nonconference consisted of a split against Northeastern, the ninth place team in HE, a win against Cornell, a loss against Maine, and four games against an assortment of AH and CHA teams. KRACH, of course, has them ninth nationally because they're almost .500 in the WCHA.
Union is the next to die with their ugly SOS and nonexistent TUC categories. That's something that can be overlooked when you have a nice RPI, but there's no reason to look at Union's schedule and think they're somehow underrated.
The Real Bubble
||Round of eight
The only low RPI team we can't dismiss is Vermont, which went 3-3 in six games against RPI #2 Denver and #4 Boston College. They also beat Yale and UMD in single games and went 2-3-1 against UNH. Their TUC record is the most impressive of any team not already selected. They finished eighth(!) in Hockey East, yes, but they were three points from third. Going 6-1 in the nonconference and beating league champ UNH in the first round of the playoffs means they're worth a look.
Ferris has the best record of any remaining team other than ECAC foe Union but they have an ugly TUC record that's made uglier by the details: four of Ferris's six wins are against UNO, the #21 team according to RPI. The others are wins against Michigan and Michigan State.
New Hampshire… same boat, but they are 3-2-1 against Vermont for whatever that's worth.
Alaska swept Ferris, split a trio with Michigan, and tied three of six against Northern.
UMD is in a similar boat: eight of their eleven TUC wins are against #18 CC (who they played an improbable seven times) and #22 Minnesota. However, Duluth has a better record, RPI, and SOS than UNH and Vermont. They have slightly worse records by a much higher SOS than either of the CCHA teams. Minnesota-Duluth is in.
We have to kill two of these teams. I don't know. Maybe goal differential?
- Ferris State: +0.65
- Alaska: +0.45
- New Hampshire: +0.21
- Vermont: +0.05
That does not help at all. This is why they went with the Pairwise. Okay. You cannot possibly put Vermont in the tournament over UNH when UNH has a better record, RPI, SOS, conference finish, and beat Vermont head to head. And I don't think you can leave out UNH without a good reason when they proved themselves vastly superior to all HE teams not named Boston College. So New Hampshire's in. Then you have three teams.
TEAM A has the best record and RPI but weakest schedule.
TEAM B swept team A but has a meaningfully worse record and a worse league and conference finish.
TEAM C beat more really good teams than the other two but lost to more bad teams and finished in eighth place in its conference.
I… I guess I'm going with Ferris State and validating all the complaints. But it's not like this is obvious.
Working backwards since those should be the easiest:
Small conference autobids for teams with bad metrics.
14. Ferris State
13. New Hampshire
Last three in.
Michigan gets ahead of UMD and Ferris by virtue of common opponents. The other metrics are so close as to be nearly indistinguishable, but Michigan has a major edge in COP against a conference opponent in Ferris and a 10-2 to 8-6 advantage against UMD. The comparison with UNH is basically a push in all categories, so Michigan gets the edge for the strong late-season run.
9. Bemidji State
I guess this is where strong records against weak competition go.
8. Northern Michigan
Clearly the best of the bubble-ish teams.
6. St. Cloud State
They've separated themselves from the below; it's a coinflip as to which is 6 and which is 7.
5. Boston College
4. North Dakota
Three teams for two one-seeds. Wisconsin has a major edge in comparisons against BC; North Dakota narrowly loses TUC but actually has a much more impressive record since they played 15 games against RPI top ten opponents (and another five against #12) to BC's one. The COP category is BC's mostly because North Dakota went 1-4 against Denver. Since RPI is basically equivalent, I give the nod to North Dakota's SOS.
These are the obvious top two teams in the tournament. Picking between them is not a big deal since the last two teams are by far the least impressive and both should go meekly. Miami does have all three points in the PWR comparison so we'll go with them.
That sets us up with one intra-conference matchup in the first round: Cornell versus Yale. We'll swap Yale and BSU.
1. Miami vs 16. UAH
8. Northern Michigan vs 9. Yale
2. Denver vs. 15. RIT
7. Cornell vs. 10. Bemidji State
3. Wisconsin vs. 14 Ferris State
6. St. Cloud State vs. 11. Michigan
4. North Dakota vs 13. UNH
5. Boston College vs. 12. Minnesota-Duluth
Attendance will be shaky in Fort Wayne, but there's no way to swap Michigan in since Northern is holding down the 8 seed unless you want to swap the entire matchup. If Northern and St. Cloud had comparable metrics, I'd do it but there's a big enough gap that the bracket integrity is more important.
Minnesota-Duluth probably should have been in easily, but was left out in favor of Vermont. If you put a gun to my head, I'd say Ferris is more deserving than Alaska. Apparently, in my Northern is slightly underseeded; other than that it's not much different, at least not this year.
If I was the king of college hockey I'd have the committee hand select the last couple at large bids but then use the Pairwise for seeding.