This time of year, intense focus is turned towards the PairWise Rankings, that mystic, sometimes incomprehensible, source of wisdom daring us to guess the NCAA tournament field in advance.
Ofttimes, the results work out like a game of craps. Sometimes, you’re better off letting others roll the dice, while at other times, you want to take the turn yourself.
Seemingly unconnected events play critical roles in whether a team makes the NCAA tournament.
“Depending on who you talk to, you get different stories,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves Thursday evening, of the difficulty that comes with trying to interpret the PWR.
For Eaves and his Badgers, that interpretation has become critical to planning their next few weeks.
By beating Alaska-Anchorage 2-1 in Game 3 of their WCHA first-round series Sunday, March 13, the Wisconsin Badgers grabbed the dice — or so it seemed.
Despite winning, the Badgers may have damaged their chances at the NCAAs. By winning, they knocked the Seawolves out of the ranks of Teams Under Consideration (TUCs), and thus hurt their own chances of making the national tournament.
Ironically, a loss on Sunday against the Seawolves might have strengthened the Badgers’ case for an NCAA bid. Instead, coming into the Final Five, they probably needed two wins to make a strong case for themselves.
Still, they controlled their own destiny.
With Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to North Dakota, the Badgers threw snake eyes on their first roll of the dice, handing the cubes over to other bubble teams — notably Colgate and Ohio State, each of which also needs wins to bolster its NCAA portfolio.
“Had we won, it probably would have improved our chances. Now we just have to wait,” said Eaves.
Indeed, had the Badgers won, they would have assured themselves the edge in the critical head-to-head PWR comparison with North Dakota, while a second win sometime this weekend would almost certainly have set the Badgers’ course for the NCAA regionals.
Now Badger fans and players will spend the next two days watching the out-of-town scoreboard instead of their own team, praying for a dearth of conference championship upsets and for early departures for the Raiders and the Buckeyes.
“If we are fortunate [enough] to get an NCAA bid, I hope it will build a fire [under the team]”, said Wisconsin captain Adam Burish.
But if the Badgers end up staying home, the game that may have cost them their NCAA bid was a tie in the Badger Showdown against the last-place team in the ECACHL, the Yale Bulldogs, who finished the season sporting a 5-25-2 record.
With limited interconference play, non-wins against last-place teams can be deadly. Currently, that particular tie is costing Wisconsin its head-to-head comparison against Dartmouth — and potentially a berth in the national tournament.
The fortunate thing for Badger fans is that they are betting on the favorites, but the unfortunate thing is that the dice are no longer in Wisconsin’s hands.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Burish.