A Pickle

Submitted by Brian on March 4th, 2008 at 6:44 PM

I think Michigan hockey is in one. There's so much jitter in the PWR -- one indication that it's not the world's most reliable system -- that the weekly "bracketology" columns that are all the rage are essentially useless, but we do know a few things: M, NoDak, CC, UNH, and Miami will be the top five seeds. Wisconsin and CC are both hosting regionals.

So I'm fiddling around with brackets and if you just set things up straight 1-16, you get this:

Regional #1
16 AH Auto
9 BC

Regional #2
2 M
15 CHA Auto
7 Clarkson

Regional #3
14 UMD
6 DU
11 Minn-Mankato

Regional #4
4 CC
13 Wisconsin
5 Miami
12 Minny

This is pretty smooth, considering there are sixty WCHA teams in the field, but CC and Wisconsin absolutely can't be matched up against each other because they're both hosting and UW has to be in Madison. The switch with the most bracket integrity is to flip UW into the UNH bracket and send that to Madison, but that would strip Worcester of a #1 seed that plays its home games something like 25 or 50 miles from there and would probably send the M/Clarkson/SCSU/CHA bracket there, which would be attendance death.

The committee's other option: screw over either M or NoDak and bracket one of the top two seeds in Madison against a home team. Michigan is #2 and likely to remain there (at best) unless both CC and UND go belly-up. There's a long way to go and Wacky Things will no doubt occur, but I have a bad feeling that if Wisconsin is a four seed, we're going to play them in the first round no matter what.

Side note: All of these projections are overlooking the possibility of conference-tourney interlopers. With just two Hockey East teams and one ECAC team in the tourney right now, one or both of those conference tourneys is likely to be won by teams currently out of the field, so Wisconsin is about one slot away from being out of the tourney altogether, which is the best option for Michigan.

Side note #2: Western College Hockey takes issue with the WCHA-flood concerns expressed by Elliot Olshansky and Yost Built like so:

The Blog that Yost Built took a look at the WCHA's OOC performance. He brings up a ton of evidence against the WCHA, though all of it is still anecdotal. Wouldn't it be great if there was a system that took into account *every* game and objectively measured the quality of every opponent? Oh wait, you mean there already is a system like that? Ultimately, the beef here is with the ranking system that was agreed upon before the season started, not with the WCHA itself.

No one has questioned the WCHA's position as the preeminent college hockey conference, but I think it's fair to say that any system that says eighty percent of a particular conference should be in the tournament is broken. WCH cites the RPI as a system that "objectively measure[s] the quality of every opponent" -- and I guess you could cite KRACH as a similar system -- but RPI is a jerry-rigged ranking that gets fiddled with on a regular basis. The NCAA has changed the OOP percentage, win percentage, tough roadie bonus, and exclusion of RPI-hurting wins in the time I've been following college hockey. And they've done the same to the PWR, first increasing the length of the "L10" component to 16, then dropping it entirely, changing the TUC cutoff from a .500 record to a .500 RPI to the top 25 in RPI, and making the TUC record not count when you have less than ten games registered on top of all the fiddles with the RPI. College hockey is constantly dissatisfied with its system, and for good reason: like the BCS it regularly spits out nonsensical results.

Despite the NCAA's implicit acknowledgment that the PWR is unreliable, every year they hew to this rickety thing down to the letter, which makes no sense.

Another thrust from WCH:

I think we can all agree that North Dakota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Colorado College, and Miami are all solid tournament teams. If those six teams had formed their own conference prior to the start of the season, one of two things would have happened: Either everyone would have finished .500, or somebody would have had a losing record. Should they be excluded from the tournament because of that? The same is true in the WCHA, though to a lesser extent. If somebody wins a game, that means somebody else has to lose, even if both teams are good hockey teams.

Elliot said he'd rather see Notre Dame, Providence, and Princeton in the tournament than Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Wisconsin. But what is there, other than overall record, to suggest that any of those teams belongs in the tournament more than the three WCHA teams? If you're going to take that step, why even bother with strength of schedule at all?

I think there's a terrific argument for including strength of schedule, but what we're talking about here is overrating SOS to the point where a team ten games over .500 in one of the top three conferences is in a position to be passed over by a team below .500. Does that make sense? Is there any evidence that the WCHA is so far superior to the CCHA that we should prefer the eighth-place WCHA team to the fourth place CCHA team, especially when that CCHA team has a split against #6 seed Denver?

The problem: the NCAA vastly overrates the importance of nonconference games. They form the basis for virtually all the SOS rankings and the COP category. Then they double-count SOS in a terribly arbitrary way by declaring games against the top 25 teams to be a special category all their own (thus eliminating UNO, NMU, and BGSU from consideration because each is three points adrift of the top 25!).

It's common sense: if you are one of the worst teams in your conference, you are not one of the best teams in the country and should not be afforded the opportunity to win a national title in a nigh-random pinball machine like a single-elimination hockey tournament.