We may be experiencing some turbulence
If at any point you don’t like the prospective composition of the NCAA at-large field, then wait five minutes, because it will probably change. Thanks to the volatile nature of the PairWise Rankings, teams are bouncing around like an unfrozen puck. Boston University’s rebound in particular started a ripple effect that had teams moving up and down the rankings last Tuesday. By the end of the week, the Terriers, although they won both of their games, were no longer in the RPI top 12, which had the same composition as seven days before, albeit reordered a bit.
If for no other reason than future comparison purposes, here’s a snapshot of the current USCHO PairWise Rankings:
Rank Team RPI
1 Wisconsin .6742
2 Minnesota .6369
3 Cornell .6354
4 North Dakota .5734
5 Mercyhurst .5731
6 Harvard .5712
7 Boston College .5708
8 Northeastern .5642
9t Dartmouth .5587
9t Minnesota-Duluth .5496
9t St. Lawrence .5548
12 Clarkson .5476
One of the winners in the shuffle was North Dakota, sweeping Bemidji State and moving up into the top four and the possibility of a home game for an NCAA quarterfinal. Note that UND’s lead over Mercyhurst in the USCHO version of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is a minuscule .0003, so whether the NCAA selection committee’s version of the ranking shakes out exactly the same, or if they’d swap those teams if it facilitated travel to do so, is difficult to predict. We seem to learn something new about committee decisions each year, and those decisions don’t always stay in perfect harmony. The biggest victim of the rankings flux was Dartmouth; the Big Green lost to Princeton and dropped from the eighth spot.
In an election year, one hears a lot about Super Tuesday, the day many key states hold their primaries. The hockey season’s version of Super Tuesday comes up this week, with the championship and third-place game of the Women’s Beanpot, plus the third nonconference meeting of Mercyhurst and Cornell. With five of the six teams squarely in the NCAA picture and the sixth rising fast, the tournament implications are huge.
Another team gaining last week was Northeastern, inching up to No. 8 and the final at-large berth. The Huskies meet BU for the Beanpot title, and perhaps much more. Northeastern’s grasp on a tournament spot is precarious, and the Terriers earlier defeats have left them with little grace. I may be saying the same thing again in three weeks if they collide in the Hockey East tournament, but to date, this is the most important game of the season for either team.
Much rides on the Beanpot undercard as well. Harvard’s beating at the hands of BU had it out of the top eight until comeback wins for the Crimson over Quinnipiac and Princeton over the weekend. Boston College slid from the top four down to seventh after getting dumped by Providence, 6-2. The Eagles trail Harvard by just .0004 in the RPI, and both are in range of North Dakota and Mercyhurst above them, so BC versus Harvard is not your typical third-place game in importance.
Meanwhile, in Ithaca, the Lakers will meet their last highly-ranked opponent, and a win over Cornell likely vaults them back into fourth. Of late, Mercyhurst has been challenged mightily by CHA opponents; a tie with Niagara over the weekend means that each league opponent has taken at least a point from the Lakers. The Big Red have incentive of their own, as a victory on Tuesday keeps them nipping at Minnesota’s heels for second.
The BC loss to the Friars left Northeastern in control of its league fate. A pair of games with both Maine and Providence stands between the Huskies and their first Hockey East crown. At the other end of the HEA standings, New Hampshire’s inability to hang onto leads against Connecticut leaves the Wildcats with but a point lead over UConn and two-point gap on Vermont for sixth and the final league playoff spot.
Colgate claimed wins over Union and Rensselaer to place the Raiders just a point behind the Brown Bears and Engineers for the final playoff opportunity in the ECACH, while Cornell swept the same two opponents to close in on the league title.
In the CHA, Robert Morris won twice over Syracuse, and if the Colonials can do the same against Niagara, it would set up a showdown with the Lakers in two weeks for the league throne; RMU trails Mercyhurst by a single point with four games to go.
Little changed in the WCHA, where the top three swept the bottom three, and Ohio State and Minnesota-Duluth split and remain deadlocked for fourth and the right to host a quarterfinal.