Many columnists do an article at about this point of the season predicting events that they believe will happen. Those that read our weekly picks contest already have an idea of just how much value there is in any prediction of mine.
So rather than tell you what I think we’ll see by the time the NCAA Championship trophy has been awarded, I’ll confine this story to extrapolating the existing numbers with the odd comment here and there.
It’s a whole new world in the CHA. For the first time, the league is composed of six teams, four of whom are still in the hunt for the top spot. Fourth-place Syracuse trails league-leading Mercyhurst by three points, but matches the Lakers in winning percentage and has a pair of games in hand. The Orange head to Erie for a Friday-Saturday series, and should either team sweep, it would become the favorite, while any form of a split figures to leave the race wide open between those two team plus Robert Morris and RIT.
The ECAC is almost as tightly bunched when viewed as points, with Harvard ahead of Quinnipiac by a point, Cornell by two points, Clarkson by four, and St. Lawrence six back. Due to the disparity in games played, it may be clearer to consider the standings in terms of the loss column. Harvard is still perfect in the circuit, Clarkson has one loss, Cornell and SLU have two, and the Bobcats have three losses plus a tie. The key game of the weekend comes Saturday, with Quinnipiac visiting the Crimson.
Hockey East has turned into a two-team race. Boston College is four points up on Boston University, but the Terriers have two games in hand and the two teams each have two losses and a tie. Interestingly, they have completed their head-to-head play already, so the winner will likely be decided by one of the other squads playing spoiler.
Minnesota’s lead of 13 points in the WCHA isn’t quite as large as it appears, as each game in that league is worth three points due to its use of shootouts. Still, the Gophers are more than four games ahead of Ohio State, so the more compelling battle may involve OSU, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Minnesota-Duluth within 10 points of each other and jostling for three home-ice quarterfinal berths between them. In that respect, the Buckeyes series at the Badgers may be more crucial than UND’s trip to Minnesota.
NCAA Tournament picture
Two months back, a snapshot of the PairWise rankings had the teams ordered like so:
The current picture has evolved to:
The big mover has been BC, coming from off the radar to third thanks to the Eagles’ unbeaten run since October. BU is also climbing, while Dartmouth has fallen off the map and Cornell, Clarkson, and Mercyhurst have slid a couple of notches.
Back in 2010, three programs debuted in the NCAA tournament: BU, Clarkson, and Cornell. After no new teams qualified in 2011, North Dakota joined the tournament ranks last year. The current set of at-large teams would give us Ohio State as a new entrant. Can the Buckeyes stick? As we saw last year when both BU and SLU made conference tournament charges to break into the field, the eighth spot in the PairWise isn’t a comfortable place to be. Thus, OSU’s trip to Madison represents a huge opportunity to build on a body of work.
The odds of that current ranking staying intact are roughly nil, but it is still fun to speculate about it. Ohio State would represent a different animal for the selection committee than a team like North Dakota, in that the Buckeyes are going to need a flight no matter where they are sent. Thus, it would be possible that in a field such as the one above where the Lakers and Buckeyes aren’t separated by much that Mercyhurst would be sent to Minnesota and OSU to Harvard to eliminate a conference pairing. If the bracket was left as it, it would reprise a couple of marathon NCAA quarterfinals over the years, Mercyhurst at Harvard and Cornell versus BU with the Terriers getting to host this time. A Clarkson at BC tilt would answer the question of just how big a difference the absence of Jamie Lee Rattray and Erin Ambrose made a week ago.
With nobody putting up insane numbers this year among Brianna Decker and the Lamoureux twins, Meghan Agosta’s NCAA career record of 303 points appears to be safe for the season. However, those three WCHA seniors can still leave their marks on the all-time NCAA scoring list.
With 242 points, Jocelyne Lamoureux has moved into sixth in career points. Next up for her will be Natalie Darwitz (246), Hilary Knight (262), and Nicole Corriero (265). Julie Chu at 285 points appears safe in second behind Agosta.
Monique Lamoureux is not far behind with 232, but it’ll be close as to whether or not she can catch Knight and Corriero as well.
Decker has 221 points. Her 32-point first half was down from the pace that saw her reach the 80-point plateau in each of the previous two campaigns. If she can surge and pass Knight, it would be the third straight season in which a new Badgers’ program record was established, as Knight bested Meghan Duggan’s 238 points a year ago.
One player who has a shot at overtaking Agosta someday is Amanda Kessel. Halfway through her junior season, Kessel has 184 points. If one assumes that she has played five-eighths over her career and projects that rate out another year and half, then Kessel would reach 294 points. However, after tallying 50 points as a rookie, she has racked up 134 in her last season and a half. If she continued at that pace, then she’d finish with a new mark of 318. Given that next season is an Olympic year, we aren’t likely to see that anytime soon.
First things first for Kessel. With 54 points in her first 19 games, she is on a pace to score 113.68 points if Minnesota were to play the same number of games that it did a year ago in reaching the finals of both the WCHA and NCAA tournaments. Darwitz set the NCAA season points mark with 114 in 2005. A tougher schedule in the second half suggests that it is unlikely that Kessel will challenge the record. A caveat on the other side of the argument is that she wasn’t 100 percent healthy through the early part of this season as she recuperated after hip surgery.
Her center, Hannah Brandt, can shoot for Julie Chu’s freshman mark of 93 points, established in 2003. If the Gophers maxed out on games, then Brandt’s 48 points would project out to 98. Unlike Kessel, Brandt’s scoring pace slowed at the end of 2012.
Minnesota’s fast start has it positioned to challenge some team NCAA records. Wisconsin holds the marks for most wins with 37, set two years ago, and fewest losses with but one in 2007.
Minnesota-Duluth set the record for goals in a season with 226 in 2003. The Gophers have 114 through the first 20 games, so they’d need to have just as prolific a second half.
At the same time, they allowed 12 goals against, ahead of the pace of the Badgers in 2007 when they gave up 36. Harvard has given up only 10 goals thus far, but that’s over 13 games. If Harvard plays seven tournament games for 23 more, that pace would give them a total of 27.7 goals allowed for the season. Minnesota is on pace to yield 24.6 goals, so there is a chance that Wisconsin’s record could be broken multiple times this year.