Tuesday, February 5, 2013

For Q

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!!!

Please.

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?"

Ugh.

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.)

4 comments:

  1. The last National title for your league was in 1989. An impressive win for Harvard in a hostile environment over Minnesota 4-3 in OT. But that's been it. That's 23 years. The last runner up? 1990. Colgate a 7-3 defeat at the hands of Wisconsin. Truth is the math is wrong. Based on past performance the ECAC is constantly an over-rated league during the regular season. But don't complain they might find out and change it.

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    1. "Truth is the math is wrong."

      Okay, prove the math is wrong. Show us a better mathematical model for demonstrating which team is the best when there isn't perfect overlap in the schedules. "The ECAC hasn't had a champion in a while" simply isn't a valid argument for "Quinnipiac isn't good now." "Truth is," Q has done significantly better than Minnesota against an only slightly weaker schedule.

      Will we see "proof" in the tournament come March and April? One can only hope so. Until then, all you're doing is proving WaP's point, that provincialism is trumping the evidence.

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    2. I have nothing against Quinnipiac, and Coscoberston didn't make his point very elegantly, but what I think he was trying to say is that the ECAC has been highly rated previously, and then exposed come tournament time. This is the reason people are reluctant to rate them number one.

      Say Niagara (just to pick on a random team, I actually like this Niagara squad) goes undefeated through AHA and is #1 in the Pairwise five years in a row, but gets blown out every year in the tournament. The sixth year, if they go undefeated again, would it be so wrong of the voters to account for the past in their votes? You can yell "They're undefeated and #1 in the Pairwise and the past doesn't matter." But the voters can think "I've seen this before, and though it may not be fair, I don't really think they are the best team in hockey."

      I don't think this hyperbolic story applies to Quinnipiac, but their IS logic to why people vote the way they do. And the Q better do well in the tourney, cause if they stumble, we'll see this problem manifest itself again stronger in the future.

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  2. I think you'd be surprised how little Quinnipiac is mentioned here in the west...

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