Monday, November 22, 2010

Cold Water

We've been hearing some excited murmurs over the Engineers' current position in the PairWise Rankings. Strictly applied, RPI currently sits in 16th in the PWR. Given that there are 16 teams in the NCAA tournament field and the Atlantic Hockey champion pretty much always displaces the 16th ranked team in the PWR, it appears the Engineers are at least on the cusp of fighting for a place in the national tournament, right?

Allow me to temper your enthusiasm.

Examining the PWR this early in the season is a fool's errand. That's because the four elements of the system are wildly in flux right now. From week to week, the PWR looks very different right now. A team could be in a position for a #1 seed one week, and out of the tournament altogether the next week. Why? Consider this.

RPI: The Ratings Percentage Index is the most fundamental component of the PWR, and serves as a tiebreaker when teams are tied in the comparison. This early in the season, a team's RPI can fluctuate quickly because of the comparatively small sample size when held against games played later in the season. Yale is a perfect example - their 7-1-0 record has them number one in RPI right now. Not surprisingly, the PWR ranking is exactly the same as the RPI rankings right now.

TUC: The most underdeveloped element this early is the record against other Teams Under Consideration. In order for the TUC comparison to take place, both teams in a comparison must have 10 games against TUCs - something no team has right now (RPI has five - three against Union, one against Dartmouth, and one against Niagara). By February, most TUCs, at least those from the WCHA, CCHA, Hockey East, and ECAC, should have at least 10 games against other TUCs. Until that happens, this category doesn't even exist.

COp: In each comparision, the record against common opponents of the two teams in the comparison factors in. This early in the season, there's not much going on here unless the compared teams are in the same conference. Even if there is something going on, it's usually going to be one of only two categories that are used in a given comparison - meaning that it doesn't matter given that the RPI is the tiebreaker. Either a team wins both RPI and COp and wins the comparison, or the team wins the RPI and loses the COp, but wins on the RPI tiebreaker. Therefore, the RPI is the only thing that matters.

H2H: The head to head comparison is not always relevant since many comparisons will feature teams that will not play each other, but where applicable this early in the season, its meaning is typically overblown, especially in cases where teams have multiple wins over others. Taking a weekend sweep in a WCHA or CCHA series pretty much secures a PairWise comparison victory this early in the season (since that team is also likely to then be ahead in RPI). That will lessen to merely providing a major advantage later in the year.

So that's it. The bottom line is that we aren't going to see enough teams with 10 games against TUCs until mid-January at the earliest - and that is when you can start looking at the PWR and start divining which teams are NCAA contenders. Sorry, folks.

Over the last several seasons, I have produced a weekly "Husky Bracketology" article for my friends at DaHuskies.com, a St. Cloud State fan site. Each week, I would run through the PairWise and give my estimation for what the NCAA field looks like and what teams SCSU supporters should be cheering for in the next weekend of games to improve the Huskies' chances of having a high NCAA position.

Since starting that, I have yearned for the opportunity to do a similar "Engineer Bracketology" (expanding on the fact that Jayson Moy, the former voice of RPI Hockey and an RPI alum, is considered the pre-eminent College Hockey Bracketologist in the known universe). I'm hopeful that in the near future, it'll be something we can talk about, maybe even this season. But now is not the time for it. I have dreams, as we all do, but I try to keep my writing focused on reality.

I do promise this, however. If mid-January arrives and the Engineers are ranked in the PairWise and aren't just some fringe TUC, we'll have a weekly Engineer Bracketology column here at Without a Peer until such time as an at-large bid is unreasonable.

In the meantime, some things to remember for RPI fans hopeful that the Engineers will in fact be in the mix for an at-large bid:

1) RPI needs to keep playing well. Nothing else matters if this doesn't happen. Statement games are just around the corner - at Yale on December 3rd and at home against BU on December 11th. These games may not break the Engineers, but they could help make them.
2) Root for ECAC teams in non-conference games.
3) Root for RPI's past non-conference opponents, especially the ones they beat. That means we're all Niagara fans from here on out.
4) This week only, hope RPI plays and beats Bowling Green on Saturday. It's the only potential game against CCHA competition this year, and a win over BGSU would be important in COp comparisons with the many CCHA teams that are likely to be TUCs this year - Alabama-Huntsville has a number of CCHA teams on their schedule, but A) RPI's already got two other games against them, and B) BGSU plays every CCHA team at least twice.

See, now I'm getting too technical. Number 1 is the main focus.

Other junk - Despite being idle this week, the Engineers moved up one slot in the national USCHO rankings, moving from 18th to 17th in the country. The other two ranked ECAC teams also moved up - #3 Yale (up two, swept Cornell and Colgate on the road) and #13 Union (up one, idle). #2 Boston University (no change) remains the only other opponent on the Engineers' schedule this season. Other opponents receiving votes this week were Quinnipiac (42, missed being ranked #20 by 6 votes), Dartmouth (9), Colorado College (5), Princeton (5), Niagara (4), Clarkson (3), and Brown (1).

RPI has displaced Harvard as the top rated defensive team in the nation with a team GAA of 1.82 thanks to Quinnipiac hanging five goals on Kyle Richter and then Ryan Carroll on Saturday. It's not by much, though - Allen York and his blueliners lead second-ranked Boston College by just 0.01 goals allowed per game (20 allowed in 11 games against 22 allowed in 12 games).

Speaking of York, his 1.78 GAA is 6th in the nation and his .931 save percentage is 10th.

Nick Bailen is still tied for third nationally in scoring among defensemen with 12 points - his 1.09 points per game has him second behind only Robert Morris senior Denny Urban in that category for blueliners.

Yale's offense is pretty ridiculous. They are not only the top rated offense in the nation, their 5.25 goals per game is more than a whole goal per game more than second rated Nebraska-Omaha, who clocks in at 4.17. The Bulldogs have scored 14 more goals than the Engineers so far this season, and they did it in 3 less games. If not for their loss to Air Force two weekends ago, they'd still be undefeated and probably ranked #1 in the country right now.

Upcoming games
26 Nov - UConn (RPI Invitational)
27 Nov - Alabama-Huntsville/Bowling Green (RPI Invitational)
03 Dec - at #3 Yale
04 Dec - at Brown
11 Dec - #2 Boston University

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