Perhaps my most favorite thing about BG being in the NCAA Tournament discussion is my crusade against college hockey polls/for Pairwise has me feeling vindicated.
I publicly started this crusade last year and continued it this year because I’m a jarhead who enjoys ranting about things that don’t really matter. Well, due to BG excelling this year and, more recently, falling back to earth a tad, everyone on Twitter/Facebook has been on a big Pairwise kick.
That’s for good reason! Pairwise mimics the criteria of the NCAA selection committee. So being highly ranked in Pairwise means something.
Not everyone understands how it works (and that’s OK, because I’m not going to pretend to be completely versed). But the number of “BG swept NMU and moved down in the Pairwise? How does that make sense?” posts I saw this week made me want to beat my own head against a wall. Let’s clarify real quick: Pairwise works sort of like the BCS in the sense that simply winning doesn’t equal a ranking improvement (and it’s better than the BCS because it pays no credence to either the USCHO or USA Hockey Magazine poll for its rankings). It factors in things like strength of your opposition and quality of wins. That’s how a team like St. Cloud, at 18-17-1 can check in ahead of BG in Pairwise. The Huskies have played the second most difficult schedule in the nation. BG’s ranks 28th.
The other great thing about Pairwise is it’s all about numbers, meaning you can accurately predict what will happen with the rankings, given a specific result. Given that, USCHO threw together a “Pairwise Predictor” which allows you to simulate out the remaining games and figure out who is going to make the NCAA Tournament.
The fine folks at USCHO also compiled the data of every simulation people have run. Given that, we can make a few assumptions:
-Based on the 8,246 scenarios run through the predictor (as of Wednesday night), we can conclude eight teams are a lock for the NCAA Tournament: North Dakota, Minnesota State, Boston University, Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, Miami and Nebraska-Omaha made the tournament in 100 percent of scenarios run.
-Boston College’s future became a little murky by losing to Vermont last weekend, but the Eagles still qualified for the tournament in 98.93 percent of scenarios, meaning upsets will have to fall pretty much an exact way for the Eagles to miss.
-Since you’re all here for one primary reason: BG qualified for the tournament in 81.95 percent of scenarios.
That’s what we’re focusing on today. What will it take for the Falcons to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990?
Well, the easiest answer is beat Michigan Tech and then beat the winner of Minnesota State/Ferris State. Winning the Broadmoor Trophy would guarantee the Falcons a berth in the tournament as the WCHA postseason champion. That’s, obviously, the goal the Falcons have.
But this whole ordeal is a lot more gray than just the black and white of last year, where BG had to win the tournament or it wasn’t making it. Heading into the weekend, BG sits No. 12 in Pairwise. That’s a good place to be in. But it’s nowhere near safe.
Why? There are exactly 14 teams still alive that sit outside the top-16 in Pairwise. Aside from the NCHC, each conference still has at least one team alive that falls in this category. As we touched on above, WCHA, NCHC, Hockey East, and potentially the ECAC and Big Ten have teams who will qualify regardless of where they finish in their league tournament.
So let’s play with Pairwise Predictor to find out where BG could fall, both in realistic scenarios and if some stuff gets wild. And it’s college hockey, so you can bet some stuff is going to get wild.
We’ll start with this one just because. This is what the Pairwise rankings will look like if the higher-seeded team wins every game this weekend:
I can argue that this is a horribly unlikely scenario, because, well, upsets will happen. But this gives you a little perspective at least. Yes, if BG loses to Tech and everything else falls like it’s supposed to, the Falcons will be OK. This scenario also includes two St. Cloud losses, which is big for one reason: it would disqualify them from receiving an at-large bid (yes, even though the Huskies still check in above that cut-off line).
Why, you ask? Because teams under .500 aren’t eligible for an at-large bid. Well, how can St. Cloud lose twice this weekend? The NCHC decided to have a third-place game. Which, with three teams ranking in the top seven in Pairwise, could end up being a death sentence for the Huskies this year. The Huskies losing twice would help BG, but as you can see above, it would be a moot point in this scenario.
A little chaos
In this scenario, we’re breaking a little more china. I have Michigan upsetting Minnesota for the Big Ten, St. Lawrence upsetting Quinnipiac for the ECAC and UMass-Lowell upsetting BU in Hockey East. I have North Dakota over Denver for the NCHC, with St. Cloud winning the third place game. In this scenario, I still have BG losing to Tech. This is the result:
As you can see, with three conference champions outside the top-16, the Falcons miss the cut, despite still checking in at 15. This is most definitely not an unrealistic scenario.
There are quite a few teams still alive that are right on the bubble, but not on the right side of it.
Teams like Harvard, Vermont, St. Lawrence, Michigan and Robert Morris all fall in the top-20 of Pairwise heading into the weekend, but they aren’t in close enough striking distance to make the NCAA tournament unless they win their respective conference tournament. That’s good news for BG. What’s not good news for BG is that means there are plenty of teams left that are good enough to make that a possibility.
Not all those teams could make it out. For example, best-case would have Harvard and St. Lawrence playing for the ECAC title. But in that scenario, only the winner would qualify and it would most likely push Quinnipiac out of the tournament. Robert Morris plays in a league that is only sending one team to the tournament regardless of who wins.
The worst-case scenario for the Falcons would be a string of upsets that has several of these teams qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. The following is what the Pairwise would look like if Robert Morris won the AHA, Michigan defeated Minnesota in the Big Ten, Harvard defeated St. Lawrence in the ECAC, New Hampshire beat Vermont in Hockey East, St. Cloud beat Miami in the NCHC and Ferris beat Tech in the WCHA:
It doesn’t look a ton different than if just a few upsets happen. This is most likely not going to be a scenario anyone needs to worry about.
One BG win
So let’s get to some good news. I ran a number of different scenarios, and with one exception, each time I had BG defeating Tech, the Falcons qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Here is the exact scenario I ran above, but with the Falcons beating Michigan Tech:
A win over Tech would set the Falcons up nicely, giving them plenty of room to breathe. Let me stress: I ran some off the wall stuff. I had Vermont and New Hampshire playing for the Hockey East Final, with Colgate and Harvard playing for the ECAC final, with Michigan winning the Big Ten over Minnesota, with Ferris State winning the WCHA, and almost every time, the Falcons qualified for the NCAA Tournament if it beat Michigan Tech, except for one. The following is the exact scenario ran above (Michigan upsetting Minnesota for the Big Ten, St. Lawrence upsetting Quinnipiac for the ECAC and UMass-Lowell upsetting BU in Hockey East. I have North Dakota over Denver for the NCHC, with St. Cloud winning the third place game and BG defeating Tech), but with Ferris State winning the WCHA:
Yes, with four conference champions outside the top-16 in Pairwise, this is a wildly unlikely scenario. But I included this to show that there is a way for the Falcons to miss the tournament even with a win against Michigan Tech.
The following is the final Pairwise with the conference tournaments going the way I think they will. For the sake of “worst case scenario” I have Tech beating BG. In this scenario, I have Robert Morris over Canisius in AHA, Minnesota over Michigan in Big Ten, Quinnipiac over St. Lawrence in ECAC, BU over Lowell in Hockey East, North Dakota over Denver in NCHC (with St. Cloud over Miami in third-place game) and Minnesota State over Tech:
So if things fall how I think they’ll fall elsewhere, BG will qualify for the NCAA Tournament even with a loss.
This whole thing is pretty cut-and-dry from how I’m looking at it. If the Falcons beat Tech on Friday, they’re pretty much set unless they’re playing (and lose to) Ferris. That’s the only scenario I could generate that a Friday win did not guarantee the Falcons continuing their season (with, obviously, some other upsets mixed in). Should the Falcons lose Friday, it’s not quite over, but scoreboard watching will become a hobby of BG fans Friday night.