It never fails.
An ECAC team gets into the national discussion on which team might be the best in all the land, and the cacophony, especially from out west, is that, of course, there's no way that loser EZAC team could possibly be the best. THEY HAVEN'T PLAYED NE1!!!
In this case, the team in question is obviously Quinnipiac. There aren't too many other teams out there with the best record in the country and a 19-game unbeaten streak that are still unbeaten in league play. They've earned the right to be in the discussion, but don't tell that to many WCHA fans (most of whom are soon to be either Big Ten or NCHC fans) or even some Hockey East fans.
In fact, I got a tweet earlier last week that basically laid it out like this - "other than the fact that they swept Nebraska-Omaha at home, why should I be impressed with Quinnipiac?"
Let's break this down. Who's got the best record in the nation? Again, that's Quinnipiac.
It's not enough by itself, of course. Niagara has the third best record, but no one is touting them as the third best team in the country. That's because, excuse the repetition, they actually haven't played anyone. KRACH tells us that their strength of schedule is 58th out of 59 teams in the country - only Army has played an easier schedule. So while 17-4-5 Niagara has the nation's third best record and are in the hunt for what could be Atlantic Hockey's first ever at-large bid, they're being pegged as a team that might be in the Top 15, if that. That's fair.
Does Quinnipac deserve similar treatment?
According to KRACH, Quinnipiac has played the 33rd most difficult schedule to date nationally. In a world where there are 59 teams, 33rd is... pretty plain, yes. But then again, Minnesota, who has been number one for a few weeks now, and who many thought would drop down in favor of the Q, is only 27th themselves - yet no one ever asks who THEY'VE played.
Why is that? The answer is pretty simple. They play in the WCHA, which is recognized as a difficult league regardless of the year. They're the place where Herb Brooks won national championships. If they have a similar record to Quinnipiac, they must be better, because they're Minnesota and they play in the WCHA.
That's pretty lame. Determining the top team in the nation shouldn't have anything to do with what a program has done in the past, or the reputation of their conference alone - only what they're doing right now. Right now, the Gophers are one of the best teams in the country, there's no doubt. But look at the metrics - all of those mathematical methods for comparing all of the nation's teams against each other.
Who's #1 in KRACH? Quinnipiac. Who's #1 in the Pairwise, as we get into the month of February? Quinnipiac, and they don't lose a single Pairwise comparison with anyone, including the Gophers. Ratings Percentage Index? Quinnipiac. It's all there - that pretty much concludes the major metrics of comparison right there.
Need more? OK. As we did two years ago when a similar complaint was levied against Yale for having the temerity to lay claim to the title of the best team in the nation, check out the extended list of computer rankings for college hockey as compiled by the Markhams over at rpihockey.net. KASA is basically KRACH 2.0 - it takes into account the impact of home ice advantage when calculating KRACH. The Q's still #1. They're #1 in HEAL. Then they're #2 in four other rankings. Yes, every possible metric is saying that Quinnipiac is either best in the nation or second best, and the ones that say they're second best are the ones you've never heard of.
The fact of the matter is, the ECAC is in an up year. No, they're nowhere near the level they were at in November when certain ECAC backers were claiming that this was the year for five NCAA tournament teams, but three teams in the tournament is looking like a stronger likelihood than it usually ever does, and four doesn't appear to be outside the realm of possibility, which is almost never said about the ECAC (and hasn't happened in quite some time). This is a tough league this season with some very good teams.
In fact, it's such a good league that teams like Cornell and Harvard, who were consensus top-level picks, are struggling to keep their heads above water. Are they underperforming? Sure they are. But that's not the only reason they're in 11th and 12th right now - the league is just very competitive from top to bottom.
That makes it all the more impressive that Quinnipiac has functionally, if not mathematically, clinched the #1 seed in the ECAC tournament with a month left to play. That makes it all the more impressive that they still haven't tasted defeat in league play - and should be a huge boost to their national credentials.
But for some reason, it's not enough. For some reason, a team that's not even in first place in their conference is supposed to be best in the nation.
We know better. Rand Pecknold and his charges are the real deal - for 19 straight games, against some solid competition from within the league and without, they've found ways to win most nights and have at least walked away with a draw. How hard is that to do? The next highest unbeaten streak right now is SIX - and most people think six in a row without losing is pretty good.
Get used to it.
(By the way... we told you Quinnipiac was going to be good.)