Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ECAC Power Rankings (January)

If there was ever a good season for RPI to have a rough year, this one might have actually been it when you look at the league as a whole and compare it to the rest of the country.

This time last year, the ECAC was doing very well. Yale was one of the best teams in the nation. The Capital District duo was the most feared road trip in the league, and both looked ready to end long NCAA tournament droughts.

Today? Union is the standard-bearer, which should historically be starting with the warning bells right off the bat, but the numbers paint the full picture. The Dutchmen sit 21st in KRACH, which is arguably the best mathematical method to compare teams to each other. Union, with the nation's fifth best record, ranks behind Northeastern, a team tied for seventh in Hockey East with a sub-.500 record overall.

The PairWise Rankings don't offer any better outlook. Again, Union is highest ranked in the ECAC, but sit just 15th, a position which would require them to win the ECAC championship in order to reach the national tournament if the season ended today. There are no teams sitting in position for an at-large bid. Union or Cornell could probably put themselves in position for one, but it's unlikely we'll see both, especially since they still have to play each other twice.

Last year, the league scored three NCAA bids - Yale, Union, and RPI. The first two were pretty rock solid by the time March began, and by the start of February last season, all three teams were regularly in at-large position. Additionally, there were two other teams floating on the bubble in Cornell and Dartmouth, and if you throw in Cinderella Colgate, half of the league had a reasonable likelihood of reaching the national tournament in the final week before the field was chosen. This year, unless something extreme happens in February, the four teams in Atlantic City are going to be fighting tooth and nail for what may ultimately become the league's only bid.

No, this certainly isn't the ECAC's year - which means that even if RPI had been more successful, the chances of a repeat bid would be long... then again, if RPI had been more successful, the league as a whole would be that much better, but the basic truths remain. The relative strength of the league last year helped the Engineers get into the tournament. This time around, the team that gets hot and stays hot in March is likely to be all alone on the inside looking out.

That' means everyone is in the same boat - which, depending on how you look at it, can either be a great equalizer, or it could give the top teams more incentive to look out below in the ECAC Tournament lest their season come to an abrupt end.

1. Union (15-6-6) - 21st in KRACH, 15th in the PairWise, 11th in our hearts and 1st in the ECAC. The Dutchmen plowed through January with a 6-1-1 record overall and following Cornell's slip last week against Colgate, sit in first place, in the driver's seat to add a second consecutive season to the quite unique Cleary Cup banner hanging from the Achilles Center ceiling. Union will have to prove its mettle in four games with the Big Red and the Raiders, but they've been pounding opponents lately with the curious exception of Brown, who picked up a season sweep two weekends ago.

2. Cornell (11-6-4) - One moment, you're humming along, sitting in first place, stringing together three straight 3-point weekends (the first coming at Colorado College, not technically three points but a win and tie nonetheless), and the next moment you run smack into a home-and-home weekend, get swept (including blowing a two goal lead on Saturday night on the road), and you're sitting in second place rather than first. That's Cornell - 3-0-3 in the first three weeks of the month (all three wins on Fridays, all three ties on Saturdays), and then swept last weekend by Colgate.

3. Colgate (14-9-3) - If one weekend was enough to judge, the Raiders should be ahead of the Big Red. Completing the weekend and season sweep of their rivals from Ithaca for the first time since 2004, the Raiders definitely injected themselves back into the discussion of the best teams in the ECAC, with the major exception that the rest of January was relatively putrid. The win on Friday at Lynah snapped a six-game winless streak that dated back to the beginning of the month, and the Raiders went 2-5-1 for January with some awful defensive shows during that stretch.

4. Quinnipiac (13-8-5) - Only four games for the Bobcats in January thanks to the class schedule of their travel partners down in New Jersey, but the Q's comeback from a rough November continued with a 2-1-1 record in the first two weekends of the month, picking up five points and ensuring that when the Bobcats return to action this weekend, they'll be right in the conversation for the first round bye. Their last game was an impressive 7-1 drubbing of Colgate, the most goals they've scored in a league game since an 8-3 pasting of Brown in 2010.

5. Harvard (6-6-9) - Somehow, the Crimson continue to find ways to tie. They picked up five more of them in the month of January (including last night's tie at home with Dartmouth), giving them nine for the season in just 21 games. It's technically a .500 record for the month at 2-2-5, but four of the five ties were of the comeback variety, which means Harvard is an exceptionally difficult team to finish off. That makes them a dangerous draw come March, and in a league that's struggling to produce standouts, a .500 record puts the Crimson in the mix for the bye.

6. Clarkson (12-11-5) - The Golden Knights bounced back well in January, dropping a pair of games against nationally ranked opponents in North Dakota and Union, but going undefeated in their other four games (3-0-1). Clarkson's lunchpail mentality has kept them in the majority of their games this year, and as we saw this past weekend in Troy, helps them pick up points even when they are unable to control the flow of the game. Frequently, their defense helps out with that, but on nights when the defense isn't on, the offense has been. That combination can make the Knights tough in February.

7. Dartmouth (9-9-3) - It's been up and down for the Big Green in the last month. Following the team's hold-on victory at the beginning of the month at RPI, Dartmouth lost three straight, including a 7-1 pounding at Union the next night. All told, the Big Green went 3-4-1 in January, blowing a 4-1 lead at Yale last weekend. The offense has been keeping Dartmouth in the hunt, as the defense has allowed 3 or more goals in six of the last eight games - which, as we at RPI are well aware, is typically going to lose you plenty of games, but they're hanging in there.

8. Yale (9-10-2) - The spiral in New Haven looked like it was about to continue last Saturday as the Bulldogs fell behind 4-1 after one period against Dartmouth, following four straight losses and a five-game winless streak, but Yale may well have saved their season with four unanswered goals to salvage a weekend split. That put a happy bookend on a January that started with a win against Bentley on New Year's Day, but featured a 3-5-1 record. The Bulldogs were supposed to be better than their record appears - can their defense, which was ironclad in November, reappear from its slumber?

9. Princeton (7-10-5) - The Tigers emerged from hibernation last night with a come-from-behind victory at home against UConn, not exactly a result that garners lots of confidence. It finished a technically good January at 3-1-1, but the one loss was against a Yale team that has been sputtering, and the big victory was against a suddenly porous Colgate defense just before exams. The Tigers have not been exceptionally brilliant this season, but neither have they instilled a sense of hopelessness, either. Their problem now is the schedule - just seven games left and four of the next five on the road.

10. Brown (8-10-3) - There's little question that the Bears are the most schizophrenic team in the ECAC this season. They picked up a season sweep of first place Union, but were swept by last place RPI. They beat New Hampshire and Providence in three days time, but were shut out at home by American International. In Brown's nine-game January, the 3-4-2 record is equally strange. The three goal rule was hard and fast - they won the games they scored 3, lost the ones they allowed 3, and tied the ones neither got 3. A good February can still snag them home ice.

11. RPI (7-18-1) - Still technically last in the league in KRACH (but closing fast), the Engineers may have seen the worm turn in late January - the question now is whether they have enough juice to make a run of any kind. The schedule may be prohibitive, with four games against Cornell and Colgate yet to come, but RPI has put together four consecutive solid outings, picking up a 3-1-0 record in the stretch to power an optimistic 4-3-1 record for the month. If the Engineers can keep up the momentum, home ice in the first round may not be as far-fetched as it was once thought.

12. St. Lawrence (8-15-3) - 1-5-1 in January, the Saints are in general freefall at this point. They haven't picked up an ECAC win since November 19, with a league record of 0-7-1 since. St. Lawrence was outscored 10-0 in the Capital District last weekend, and has allowed at least four goals in each of its last four games, while scoring only four goals during the stretch. Essentially, the Saints are pretty much back to where they were at the start of the season, only against weaker general competition. They endure their fourth and fifth straight road games this weekend, but they don't have an easy home schedule either.

1 comment:

  1. At times this year Yale looked spectacular. But most games they look disjointed. I think they have the most talent and the least cohesion. I already have my tickets for Bridgeport. I hope they don't go to waste.


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