Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Engineer Bracketology: Week 1

Welcome to the first edition of Engineer Bracketology for 2013.

If you missed out on the fun in 2011, or you otherwise don't get the point of this exercise, feel free to check out the primer we posted on Sunday. The bottom line is that Engineer Bracketology presumes that the season has ended and that the selection for the national tournament will be made based on currently existing results - we then extrapolate what future results will change things in the Engineers' favor.

And, as a final reminder... we refer to the team as "Rensselaer" during Engineer Bracketology to avoid confusion with the Ratings Percentage Index, a key component of the PairWise Rankings. When we refer to RPI, that is what we're talking about.

Anyway, here's the PWR as they currently exist. Ties have already been broken. League leaders are indicated with stars to best simulate the automatic bids.

1. Quinnipiac*
2. Minnesota
3. Miami*
4. New Hampshire
5. Boston College
6. North Dakota
7. Minnesota State
8. Western Michigan
9. St. Cloud State*
10. Niagara*
11. Denver
12. Yale
13. Boston University
14. UMass-Lowell
15. Notre Dame
16. Union
17. Rensselaer
18. Merrimack*
19. Dartmouth
20. Nebraska-Omaha
21. Alaska
22. Robert Morris
23. St. Lawrence
24. Ohio State
25. Northern Michigan
26. Ferris State
27. Wisconsin
28. Holy Cross
29. Colgate
30. Providence
31. Colorado College

In: UMass-Lowell, Merrimack
Out: Alaska, Dartmouth

TUCs
In: none
Out: none

As you can see, the Engineers are currently on the outside looking in, but not by much. For a significant part of the season, the 16th team in the PWR has been considered "in" the tournament thanks to the strength of Niagara in Atlantic Hockey. The Purple Eagles have been in the top 16 for much of the year, which means they could get an at-large bid even if they don't win the AHA tournament - a tournament, however, they would be favored to win.

At 17th, Rensselaer would be out anyway, but a new wrinkle cropped up this week. Merrimack moved into first place in Hockey East over the weekend, and bracketology presumes that the league leaders are the favorites to win their tournament and, thus, the automatic bid. That leaves Union out of the tournament as of right now.

Distributing the teams to their respective brackets and accounting for attendance concerns, we get the following bracket right now.

Providence
1. Quinnipiac
2. Minnesota State
3. Niagara
4. Merrimack

Grand Rapids
1. Minnesota
2. Western Michigan
3. St. Cloud State
4. UMass-Lowell

Toledo
1. Miami
2. North Dakota
3. Yale
4. Boston University

Manchester
1. New Hampshire
2. Boston College
3. Denver
4. Notre Dame

So now the question is... what do the Engineers need to do to get into the tournament? That's easy - win, and keep winning. The ECAC championship is the easiest path into the NCAAs. What we look at here is what can happen elsewhere that would most help the Engineers out to not only get into the tournament, but achieve the highest possible seeding.

One of the things that applies to every team is the overall record against TUCs. Right now, the Engineers have a record of 7-9-3 against teams listed above. That's not awful, but it could use a boost. Problem is, there aren't any really good ways of doing that right now.

One way to do it is for teams the Engineers have lost against falling out of the TUC ranks, or teams they've beaten becoming TUCs. For this, we examine the "TUC cliff," teams that are plus or minus .0100 from the benchmark, which is .5000 RPI.


26. Alaska (.5095)
27. Holy Cross (.5062)
28. Robert Morris (.5039)
29. Northern Michigan (.5032)
30. Colgate (.5013)
31. Colorado College (.5002)
--
32. Air Force (.4963)
33. Lake Superior (.4956)
34. Brown (.4942)
35. Bowling Green (.4921)
36. UConn (.4914)

So, what do we see here? Well, as far as teams falling out, we've got Colgate in danger of falling, a team the Engineers have beaten this year (and play on Saturday). That's a problem. However, there's another team they've played that they picked up a win and a tie against in Brown. We want the Bears to be a TUC as well as the Raiders. Rensselaer doesn't play Brown again unless they face them in the playoffs, so we can root for them to win out in the regular season. As far as Colgate is concerned, we'd love for them to go 3-1-0 the rest of the way, as long as that one loss is on Saturday.

Next, we look at individual comparisons. The Engineers have 30 different comparisons, one with every other TUC. We won't worry about ones that are out of reach (like Quinnipiac, for instance) or ones that are fairly secure (like Colorado College). However, if there are comparisons that are marginal wins or close losses, those are ones we want to focus on.

First, the wins. There are a few more here than are optimal for a team trying to get itself into the tournament.

Yale - The Engineers win this one thanks to two head-to-head (H2H) wins and a better record against common opponents (COp). The latter criteria is close, but should be OK as long as Rensselaer finishes the regular season ahead of the Bulldogs. Yale's TUC record is much better, but RPI is close. For Pairwise purposes, we want Yale to lose whenever possible to shore this up.

Boston University - We can actually thank Harvard in part for this comparison win. It's currently 2-2, and Rensselaer wins on higher RPI. The other criteria win is COp, thanks almost entirely to the Crimson's two victories over BU. The whole thing is rather tight, with BU up just slightly in TUC and they've got the one H2H win. We want BU to lose the same as Yale.

Notre Dame - The Irish have a good RPI edge, but lose on TUC (barely) and COp (Rensselaer had a better series against Ferris State than ND). So to make this better, we need to improve TUC. If Lake Superior becomes a TUC, that's a problem, since ND was 2-0-0 against the Lakers. However, they were also 2-0-0 against Northern Michigan and Alaska, so we'd like the Wildcats and Nanooks to drop. That would be perfect for this situation.

St. Lawrence - This is 2-2, with the Engineers winning on RPI and H2H. Especially with another matchup with the Saints coming next week, this needs to be shored up a bit. The only really good way for this to happen is if SLU loses to Harvard and the Engineers. The Dartmouth and Union games are a little more difficult to deal with as far as the PairWise is concerned.

Wisconsin - This one is close on RPI and TUC, the two criteria the Engineers win to win this comparison. Rooting against the Badgers.

Providence - See also Wisconsin, basically the same situation.

Now, the losses that could soon be flipped. There's one other problem here - the Engineers are losing four  comparisons to teams below them in the PWR (though they're also winning the first three above against teams above them in the PWR, so it almost comes out in the wash).

Merrimack - This is pretty close in both RPI and TUC, while the Warriors are way up in COp. Rooting against Merrimack to shore up RPI and help flip TUC.

Dartmouth - Wins this one on RPI and TUC, and both are close. This one is relatively simple, we want the Big Green to lose - probably even to St. Lawrence.

Nebraska-Omaha - With COp an outright tie, this hinges exclusively on RPI, which UNO has a slight edge in. Root against the Mavericks.

Northern Michigan - Wildcats win this one on TUC and COp. TUC is close, but probably even better would just to be to eject NMU as a TUC altogether, so we don't have to worry about their comparison at all.

Unfortunately, there's only one comparison ahead of the Engineers that is also doable:

Union - Doesn't seem possible at first glance given Union's three H2H wins, but this isn't a stretch to see this possibly flip. Why? Well, the Dutchmen are really only close to being in the tournament because of those wins and their subsequent effect on other comparisons (you're welcome, by the way, Union). However, since they already count for individual comparison points, they don't count as TUC wins for Union in this comparison... or TUC losses for Rensselaer. Taking those games out of the TUC situation, TUC is actually a strong point for the Engineers here. They must win all of RPI, TUC, and COp to win the comparison (with RPI as the tiebreaker), and right now they have TUC and COp comfortably. What does that mean? It means that basically, from here on out, it's all about RPI, plain and simple - and that is very close. If Rensselaer wins games and Union loses them, this will flip to the Engineers in a hurry.

So we have a whole handful of teams we're rooting against and a couple we're certainly rooting for. Here's the gameplan for rooting interests this week as it pertains to the PWR.

The St. Lawrence-Dartmouth game is extremely dicey - if there's going to be a winner, we probably prefer SLU, but a tie might work best, too.

The UMass-Lowell-Boston University series is kind of annoying too, since UML isn't far away in the PWR, but we're trying to hang onto the comparison win with BU. Let's take UML for now and worry about them down the road.

Friday
Mercyhurst over Niagara
Bowling Green over Northern Michigan
Miami over Lake Superior State
Western Michigan over Notre Dame
Michigan State over Alaska
Brown over Princeton
Clarkson over Dartmouth
Harvard over St. Lawrence
Rensselaer over Cornell
Colgate over Union
Quinnipiac over Yale
UMass-Lowell over Boston University
Northeastern over Providence

Saturday
Mercyhurst over Niagara
Bowling Green over Northern Michigan
Miami over Lake Superior State
Western Michigan over Notre Dame
Michigan State over Alaska
Brown over Quinnipiac
St. Lawrence over Dartmouth
Rensselaer over Colgate
Cornell over Union
Princeton over Yale
UMass-Lowell over Boston University
Northeastern over Providence

Sunday
Boston College over Merrimack
Penn State over Wisconsin

Monday
Penn State over Wisconsin

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