Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Engineer Bracketology: Week 5

We've said it before - if you're going to lose, lose to a good team. After snatching victory from the jaws of (a bad) defeat on Friday, the Engineers did finally lose for the first time in nearly a month, and it was to a good team.

And lo and behold, enough good things happened elsewhere to move the Institute up into the presumed NCAA field - albeit barely, and very much being on the bubble, easily burst if there are any upsets in conference tournaments.

1. Quinnipiac*
2. St. Cloud State*
3. North Dakota
4. Michigan*
5. Boston College*
6. Providence
7. Harvard
8. Boston University
9. Omaha
10. Notre Dame
11. UMass-Lowell
12. Denver
13. Yale
14. Rensselaer
15. Dartmouth
16. Cornell
18. Minnesota State*
22. Robert Morris*
In since last week: Rensselaer
Out since last week: Cornell
Last in: Yale, Rensselaer
First out: Dartmouth, Cornell
League breakdown: 5 HEA, 4 ECAC, 4 NCHC, 1 B1G, 1 WCHA, 1 AHA

OK, so we get to bracket the Engineers into the NCAA tournament for the first time. Here's what we've come up with.

1. Quinnipiac
2. Boston University
3. Omaha
4. Robert Morris

St. Paul
1. St. Cloud State
2. Harvard
3. Notre Dame
4. Minnesota State

1. North Dakota
2. Providence
3. UMass-Lowell
4. Yale

1. Michigan
2. Boston College
3. Denver
4. Rensselaer

Rematches, anyone?

First off, a couple of explanations. Yes, there is an all-Hockey East game in the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati, but this is allowed under the NCAA's rules. With five Hockey East teams in the tournament, especially with all five being 2 and 3 seeds, it's pretty much unavoidable. To preserve bracket integrity, there does have to be one Hockey East matchup. So it's the Friars and River Hawks.

The rest of the bracket is actually fairly perfect integrity-wise, with the exception of the Engineers being swapped with Yale. A perfectly made bracket would have Rensselaer in Cincinnati against North Dakota (which is awfully familiar). Our expectation is that if the committee can find a way to put an NCAA-bound Rensselaer team in Albany, they're going to try to do that. In this case, it's not that radical of a decision to do it this way. Cincinnati is a tickets problem, but there's no really good way to remedy that here. (We'll talk a little bit about ticket sales next week.)

That's not to say that there might not be situations where the Engineers might end up in a different regional - it's more that this scenario just makes it easy to make the change. Personally, I think they ought to just call Rensselaer a host and keep them there anyway, only giving primacy to Union if both teams are in the tournament, but that's apparently not what's going to happen, so this is at least second best.

Another crack at Michigan, potentially followed by either a rematch with Boston College or a student vs. teacher battle between Seth Appert and Jim Montgomery. Intriguing. Really, really difficult, but intriguing nonetheless. Albany is basically the regional of death here - three very strong teams and a nominal home team.

By the way - when we speak of conference tournament upsets (and we will be as we get closer to March), any team that wins their conference tournament that wouldn't have otherwise been in the tournament, that's considered an upset. It's why the #15 and #16 teams are currently considered out, because there's no team in the WCHA or Atlantic Hockey that would otherwise be in. And #14, where the Engineers are now, is a very tenuous spot in part because there's only one team of six in the Big Ten - that's Michigan - who would be in without the autobid.

The quality wins cliff:

16. Penn State .531
17. Cornell .529
18. Minnesota .528
19. Minnesota State .526
20. Michigan Tech .524
21. Minnesota-Duluth .521
22. Robert Morris .521
23. Bowling Green .520
24. Clarkson .516
25. Miami .516

Lurking just off screen: St. Lawrence (26th) and Union (27th). Especially if the Engineers sweep this weekend, we'd really, really love to see the current 24th through 27th teams move up in RPI. That's already five wins and a tie, and a sweep would make seven and a tie.

To be honest, when it comes to quality wins against moving past someone in RPI (and usually, concurrently in the PWR), you've got to pick the latter - but quality wins are very nice to have. We'll see an illustration of this with Cornell in just a second.

Quality wins
Boston College (#5, at home)
Yale (#13, at home)
Cornell (#17, at home)

Quality ties (half a quality win)
Quinnipiac (#1, on the road)
Harvard (#7, at home)

Missed opportunities
Michigan (#4, at home)
Harvard (#5, neutral ice)
UMass-Lowell (#11, on the road)
Yale (#13, on the road)
Dartmouth (#15, at home)

Remaining opportunities
Harvard (#7, on the road) - Feb 12
Dartmouth (#15, on the road) - Feb 13
Quinnipiac (#1, at home) - Feb 19
Cornell (#17, on the road) - Feb 27

Time to have a look at some of the comparisons. We start with one that took a serious blow on Monday.

Boston College (H2H win) - The Eagles' win over Harvard makes this comparison very difficult for the Engineers to win on COp/H2H without divine intervention in March. Speaking generally, it also makes upward mobility a lot more difficult, since this comparison was really the best way for Rensselaer to "negate" its guaranteed comparison loss to Alaska-Anchorage.

As outlined last week, the best case scenario for this comparison at this point before the beginning of the playoffs would see BC losing to New Hampshire on Friday, Rensselaer beating Harvard next weekend, and BC getting swept by UMass-Lowell at the end of the month. If all of that comes to pass, we're looking at a 1.500-1.500 COp, which would only be broken if BC were to play UML or UNH in the Hockey East playoffs, or if Rensselaer plays Harvard in the ECAC playoffs. That doesn't change the current dynamic at all, whereby the RPI winner wins the comparison thanks to the Engineers' H2H win.

In other words, unless something rather drastic happens, this one's only going to be flipped to the Engineers if they can catch up in RPI. So while we'll keep tabs on this one, it's looking pretty unlikely from here on out. Way to blow it, Harvard. But at least it makes rooting for BC from here on out a bit easier, since they're a quality win.

Total COp: 2.000-1.250 BC
New Hampshire: 1.000 each

UMass-Lowell (H2H loss) - No help from Arizona State (as we sort of expected) as UML crushed the Sun Devils twice - but a small amount of help from the Engineers' comeback win over Brown. That moves COp to 3.500-3.250 for UML. Every little bit.

Once again this week, we have a situation where UML can't improve their COp standing here, but the Engineers can. The River Hawks host New Hampshire on Saturday, and we'll be rooting very strongly for UNH. Should the Wildcats pick up the road win over UML, that will at worst make COp a tie, which is a net benefit for the Engineers because it would return the comparison to being a straight RPI matter. A UNH win drops UML's COp by 0.500. The worst the Engineers can do here is lose to Clarkson, which only drops their COp by 0.250. Should both happen, it's a 3.000-3.000 tie. Even a tie between UNH and UML helps the Engineers.

UML still leads on RPI, which is going to have to change if this comparison is to be flipped, but it's still relatively close. So we're continuing to root against the River Hawks for the foreseeable future no matter who they're playing. BC's win over Harvard on Monday makes it much more likely that we're rooting for the Eagles in that season-ending series between BC and UML.

Total COp: 3.500-3.250 UML
Clarkson: 1.000-0.500 UML
New Hampshire: 1.000 each

Yale (H2H split) - All that COp talk from last week is now officially irrelevant unless the Engineers and Bulldogs face each other in the playoffs. Which is the only point it'll become relevant, so it's straight RPI from now until then. Whenever we can (which we'll get to in just a second) we're rooting against Yale as long as they can potentially be caught.

Dartmouth (H2H loss) - This one came close to flipping to the Big Green, and it's still very close to doing just that. Thanks to the H2H loss, at the moment Rensselaer must win both RPI and COp in order to keep this one in the win column.

On COp, Rensselaer's worst case scenario has them getting swept at home by SLU/Clarkson and Dartmouth sweeping at Yale/Brown. If that happens, RPI is going to flip anyway, so it's not worth getting too bent out of shape over COp right now. That scenario would even out COp at 6.750 and make it a 2-0 comparison win for Dartmouth where, right now, it's 2-1 Rensselaer.

Yale and Dartmouth play each other on Friday, which means the team directly ahead of the Engineers is playing the team directly below. That's got all kinds of pitfalls, but let's look at it this way. Wins by both Rensselaer and Dartmouth wouldn't move either team ahead of Yale, but wins by St. Lawrence and Dartmouth move the Big Green ahead of the Engineers. Wins by Rensselaer and Yale move the Bulldogs up significantly in the PWR, making them more difficult to catch, but it takes some of the pressure off from Dartmouth. We'll go with Yale - especially since it helps improve them on the quality win scale.

Essentially, it's as brutally simple as just continuing to root against Dartmouth. But there's an added wrinkle that's worth keeping an eye on. Normally, we don't analyze too deeply comparisons that Rensselaer isn't a part of, but like the Engineers, Dartmouth has a comparison that they're currently losing to a team that's pretty far below them in RPI - Vermont.

Dartmouth's 2-1 comparison loss to Vermont on COp/H2H helps provide a minor bit of cushion for the Engineers at the moment, since the PWR is listed strictly in terms of the number of comparison wins. Right now, that's 45 wins for Rensselaer and 44 for Dartmouth. It would be a tie (with the Engineers ranked ahead thanks to the H2H comparison) if the Big Green were winning the comparison with the Catamounts.

So we'd like to see this one kept slanted to UVM. Dartmouth has 3 COp games remaining in their Vermont comparison - SLU, Union, and Colgate. UVM has two, both against New Hampshire. The only game out of these five that can actually help Dartmouth is their game against Union. If they beat the Dutchmen and UVM is swept by UNH, that would even up COp and flip the comparison back to the Big Green. They'd still have to beat SLU and Colgate.

Long story short - we were definitely rooting for Union to beat Dartmouth next week anyway, but that could end up having a triple effect: help get Union back up to quality win status, hurt Dartmouth's RPI, and make it very difficult for the Big Green to win their comparison with Vermont all at the same time (completely impossible if Dartmouth doesn't face Union in the ECAC playoffs).

Total COp: 7.500-6.250 Rensselaer
Yale: 0.500-0.000 Rensselaer
Brown: 1.000-0.750 Dartmouth
St. Lawrence: 1.000 each
Clarkson: 1.000-0.500 Dartmouth

Cornell (H2H win) - As predicted last week, a Cornell loss to Clarkson flipped this one to the Engineers, and their subsequent loss to SLU helped solidify it a bit. This actually illustrates how quickly a comparison can sometimes turn, since a 2-1 Cornell win is now a 3-0 Rensselaer win after just one weekend's worth of games.

RPI and COp remain close, and Cornell currently counts as a quality win for the Engineers. Ideally, we'd like to see both teams winning games, but there's certainly something of a fudge factor.

There's a serious exception on Friday - Cornell gets their shot at the Holy Grail on Friday when they play at Quinnipiac. While we'd usually like for Cornell to improve their RPI, this isn't quite the time or place. A win over the #1 team in the country would almost surely propel Cornell back up over the Engineers in PWR. It would pretty much guarantee a comparison flip on Friday night, so let's take Quinnipiac on Friday and then pull for Cornell to pick up a road split against Princeton as a consolation. If it wasn't for the tenuous nature of the Cornell/Rensselaer comparison and the fact that the Big Red are so close in PWR, we'd be rooting for Cornell, but alas, the timing's not good.

Total COp: 5.500-5.000 Rensselaer
Quinnipiac: 0.500-0.000 Rensselaer
Princeton: 1.000-0.500 Cornell
St. Lawrence: 1.000-0.500 Rensselaer
Clarkson: 0.500 each

Biggest single game to watch, by far, is UNH at UML. Nothing else is super important on its own as long as the Engineers are taking care of business themselves (which is always important).

Most interesting - eight different teams we're rooting for one night and against another this week.

The key for the cheering section:
1. Wherever there is direct COp assistance
2. For the ECAC out-of-conference
3. For improved quality win bonuses (QWB)
4. Against teams ahead of or just behind Rensselaer in the RPI or PWR
5. For non-conference opponents

Engineers Cheering Section
Quinnipiac over Cornell - 1/4
Union over Clarkson - 3
Yale over Dartmouth - 1/3/4
Brown over Harvard - 4 (not overly important, far more helpful for the ECAC standings)
Boston College over New Hampshire - 3/5 (loss at least helps on COp, but not much as mentioned above)
UMass over Boston University - 4
Northeastern over UMass-Lowell - 4

Weekend series
Bentley over Mercyhurst - 5
Sacred Heart over Robert Morris - 4
Vermont over Notre Dame - 4
Alaska-Anchorage over Northern Michigan - 5
Miami over St. Cloud State - 3/5
Minnesota splits with Penn State - 4 (they're currently tied on RPI)
Colorado College over Minnesota Duluth - 4
Bowling Green over Minnesota State - 4
Lake Superior State over Michigan Tech - 4
Alaska over Ferris State - 5

Brown over Dartmouth - 1/4
Cornell over Princeton - 3
Union over St. Lawrence - 3
Harvard over Yale - 4
New Hampshire over UMass-Lowell - 1/4/5

Harvard over Northeastern - 2
Boston College over Boston University - 3/4/5

Bemidji State over Minnesota Duluth - 4
American International over UMass - not important, but probably hurts general Hockey East RPIs

Important COp/H2H games for currently relevant comparisons
Friday, February 5: New Hampshire at Boston College
Saturday, February 6: New Hampshire at UMass-Lowell; Clarkson at Rensselaer
Friday, February 12: Rensselaer at Harvard; Union at Dartmouth
Saturday, February 13: Rensselaer at Dartmouth
Friday, February 26: UMass-Lowell at Boston College
Saturday, February 27: Boston College at UMass-Lowell

Unwinnable comparisons (H2H loss, will lose COp)

Clinched comparisons (H2H win, will win COp)
Western Michigan, Bentley

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