Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is Yale a Legit #1?

As we discussed with Brian Sullivan on Tuesday's podcast, Yale is the consensus #1 team in the nation according to the two major polls released by USCHO and USA Today, but they are proving a fairly controversial #1 in some parts because of their weak schedule compared to some of the other top teams in the nation.

"If it were just another week with a Hockey East, CCHA, or WCHA team on top of the rankings, it would just be another week, but this is huge. It's the first time in years that an ECAC team has been on top of the polls," Sullivan said on Tuesday. We couldn't agree more - and it's yet another indicator that the ECAC kind of sits off on its own. As a league, it's not on the level of those three "major" conferences, but it's not down on the level of Atlantic Hockey either. Yale is the first #1 to come out of the league in almost eight years.

Here's the source of the largest cacophony - the strength of schedule compared to the other potential #1 teams in the country.

Strength of Schedule Rating
1. North Dakota
4. Minnesota-Duluth
6. Boston College
33. Yale

OK, so Yale's schedule strength is relatively pedestrian, it's true. There are 58 Division I hockey teams, so the 29th rated schedule (Union) is about the median average. Yale's a little bit less than average in their schedule, then. Understandable - the only two nationally ranked teams that they've faced this season are RPI and Union this past weekend, unless you count Dartmouth, unranked when they played the Bulldogs.

It's worth mentioning that, as an Ivy League school, they don't have as many games played. That's another source of contention, especially among people who don't understand the Ivy League's rules on season length. While UND, UMD, and BC have 18, 16, and 16 games played respectively, Yale's only at 12 - and they're going to be there until early January.

Is this the real problem? Well, consider #3 New Hampshire. No one's howling about their placement. They play in Hockey East. But their strength of schedule is only 23rd - also far below the teams around them. Heck, that's not too far off of RPI's SoS (25th) and it's below Brown's (20th).

Well, let's take a look-see.

Yale beat Vermont last night, 3-0. Just a few days after notching his first career shutout, Ryan Rondeau did it again. He hasn't allowed a goal in 135:23, dating back to Mike Bergin's goal in the third period on Friday night. That's pretty impressive, especially given that the first shutout was against #13 Union, a team that has proven itself capable offensively.

Yale's offense? Still best in the country. After failing to reach the five-goal mark against #15 RPI and last night against the Catamounts, they've slipped just below 5.00 GPG.

1. Yale - 4.92
2. Minnesota-Duluth - 3.94

They're no longer a full goal per game ahead of everyone else. No, now it's just 0.98 GPG. I don't care who you are or how easy your schedule is. You don't outscore the rest of the world by a goal per game unless you're extremely solid.

Remember when we said that Yale's defense was going to be something to overcome? How's a 2.08 GAA grab you? Third best in the nation now. They've given up two or fewer goals in five of six games since their ignoble loss to Air Force on November 14.

That, of course, leads to a pretty gaudy average scoring margin. There are only 11 teams in the nation averaging a margin of 1.00 GPG. But look at the Bulldogs:

1. Yale - 2.83
2. Boston College - 1.62
3. Miami - 1.56
4. Union - 1.43
5. Minnesota-Duluth - 1.38

Those numbers seem unreal. Are they partially a function of an easier schedule than the four teams directly beneath them? Yes, of course. When you play teams like Sacred Heart and play in the ECAC, strong teams are probably going to put up big numbers against those weaker teams. But we're not talking about numbers that are slightly better here. If we were, the BCs and UMDs of the world would have a better argument. But these numbers are out of this world.

If that's not enough for you, take a look at the computer rankings. Yes, much like college football, college hockey has a number of mathematical formulas that are used to rank the 58 Division I teams.

The most commonly used formula is KRACH - Ken's Ratings for American College Hockey. Developed by a statistician at the University of Toronto-Marlborough named Ken Butler, KRACH is widely considered to be the most objective system for rating college hockey teams. Yale is number one, as you can see at that link.

Not enough? Check out rpihockey.net's list of computer rankings. How about KASA, which adjusts KRACH for home-ice advantage? Yale's still number one. HEAL, developed at the University of Maine, takes into account how many games a team has won, and who they've beaten. Yale's number one. CCHP, developed by Eric Carlson at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, takes into account the actual score of each game as well as home-ice advantage using an additive model. Yale's number one. Then of course, you have the regular standbys - RPI (the Ratings Percentage Index) and the PairWise Rankings (of which RPI is a component). The PWR are still too early to be a true indicator, but if you like... Yale's number one in both of those as well.

They're not number one in every ranking, though. CHODR, a ranking system developed at St. Lawrence University, is similar to CCHP but it uses a multiplicative model instead. Yale's only 2nd in that ranking behind Boston College. E-ratings, a multi-system device devised by Russian statistician Eugene Potemkin, have them 2nd as well, behind Minnesota-Duluth.

There is a recursive version of HEAL (RHEAL) that pegs the Bulldogs 8th... but looking at pretty much every other scrap of data out there, it's pretty obvious that it's an outlier. If the only bits of raw data you can point to for making the claim that Yale isn't a deserving #1 is their RHEAL ranking and their strength of schedule, that's pretty thin.

Yale's record is 11-1-0. It would be 12-0-0 if not for a total collapse spanning 15 minutes of game time against Air Force - the Elis had a 3-0 lead about five minutes into the third period, and began taking penalties and falling out of their rhythm. If not for that 15 minute stretch, this probably isn't even a conversation.

But despite all of the evidence pointing to Yale as the best team in the nation at this point in time, the controversy is likely to continue, if only because the Bulldogs are not back in action until January 2nd, when they host another weak conference team, Holy Cross, for their final non-conference game. After that, it's all league games from there out. They're certainly going to be held to a higher standard than other teams - their losses will be magnified much more, just as the Air Force loss already has been.

But are they the best out there right now? You can't convince me they're not.

7 comments:

  1. How do we get you Podcast, is it on iTunes? Thanks in advance.

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  2. Hah. the REAL Bulldogs would murder the Yale Bulldogs. They might even get the chance.

    My word verification is CHEST. It's treating me like an object.

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  3. I am up for a match-up between dogs.

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  4. Goon - We're hoping to have the podcast up on iTunes in the near future. For the time being, just click on "Listen to Without a Peer" in the upper right hand corner.

    RWD - Well, maybe UMD should have scheduled Yale, eh? ;-) Seriously, though, UMD and BC do at least have a decent argument. If Yale loses again in early January it'll likely be one of those two that are the next obvious choice.

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  5. Thanks Tom I look forward to that happening... There just aren't very many pods casts for hockey on iTunes right nwo... I think UND should be in the Mix as well... I really think the ECAC teams need to schedule more the WCHA, H.E. and CCHA teams and less of the AHA teams. It will help their argument in the national polls. Wow! On the victory against BU.... The Terriers didn't look good at all last Saturday, talk about taking a bunch of undisciplined penalties.

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  6. Goon - I think most ECAC teams would actually prefer to get some games against WCHA and CCHA teams (most do have several games against HE teams), but it's not easy since the six non-Ivy teams have a lot of NC games to schedule, especially in October before the Ivies get playing. Since the WCHA and the CCHA start their schedules right away, it really leaves those six teams especially scrambling for games and they end up scheduling AHA teams because their available, and even schedule each other quite frequently for NC games.

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  7. Tom is it safe to say that further west a team goes the less chance they have of playing except during the NCAA tourney... I enjoyed having Cornell come to the REA I think there needs to be more interlocking scheduling in the years to come. Maybe the impending Big Ten hockey conference will cause this to happen... Who knows?

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