The PairWise Analyzed

Two weeks ago, I explained why the inaugural results in the 2005-06 PairWise Rankings didn’t match conventional wisdom, or the national polls.

Well, the last two weeks haven’t quite produced an earthquake, but the PWR has been battered by some interesting results. So here we go again.

Remember that the PairWise works by comparing teams against one another, one pair at a time (hence the name), in four statistical categories: the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), record in head-to-head games, record against common opponents, and record against Teams Under Consideration (TUCs) — teams with an RPI rating of at least .500.

Note: All rankings before team names below refer to PWR rankings, not the national polls. Also, all PWR and RPI numbers cited include a .003-.002-.001 bonus for “quality” nonconference wins. Results are through all games of Jan. 31, 2006.

Punch Their NCAA Tickets Already

No. 1 Wisconsin: Want to know how far ahead of the field the Badgers were two weeks ago? Far enough that UW is still No. 1 in the RPI — by a healthy margin — and in the PairWise despite losing four straight games since then. Two weeks ago, I said that the Badgers would have to lose just about every game to fall out of the NCAA tournament, and that’s still the case. There’s good reason to believe Wisconsin will right the ship, with all of its remaining WCHA games against teams currently well below it in the league standings. The expected return of goaltender Brian Elliott won’t hurt, either.

Kellen Briggs has solidified the Gophers during their current 11-1 run (photo: Melissa Wade).

Kellen Briggs has solidified the Gophers during their current 11-1 run (photo: Melissa Wade).

No. 2 Minnesota: The Gophers have moved into a No. 1 seed in the tournament with a run of 11 wins in their last 12 games. Minnesota has been on a tear, sparked partly by the return of Phil Kessel, who scored a key goal to cement last weekend’s sweep of Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, and Blake Wheeler from the World Junior Championship, and Kellen Briggs has laid claim to the number-one goaltender’s job as well (head coach Don Lucia prefers to settle on one netminder down the stretch). The Gophers are up to second place in the RPI, and their 10-5-3 (.6389) record against TUCs is fourth-best in the country, behind only Wisconsin, Miami and Cornell (more on the Big Red later).

No. 3 Miami: The RedHawks keep plugging along, going 4-0 since the unveiling of the PWR. Their TUC record (15-4-4, .7391) is now the best in the country, and Miami’s RPI of .5873 is third, well ahead of fourth-place Boston College (.5578). With Wisconsin and Minnesota, Miami rounds out the group of leading teams which would require a monumental collapse to miss the NCAAs — if it’s possible at all.

Making A Charge

No. 5 (tie) Boston University: The Terriers are writing the manual on how to climb up the PWR: win a solid number of games (14-8-2 overall, .6250) and win them against quality opponents (8-5-2, .6000 against TUCs). BU’s win over Boston College Friday was big, thanks to the Eagles’ high overall winning percentage, which boosts the RPI of opposing teams. The Terriers were a fringe NCAA team two weeks ago; now they’re a No. 2 seed. Dangerous conference opponents await BU in the form of New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as at the Beanpot, where the Terriers open against Harvard, a TUC as well.

No. 10 (tie) Providence: Two weeks ago, I said the Friars were in a salvageable position. They proved that by winning two of three games against Maine and New Hampshire to vault into contention. But PC’s PairWise profile is hurt by losses against Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Harvard, which are combining to give ECACHL teams a boost in common opponents against the Friars. That, combined with a modest .500 record against TUCs, is why Providence’s No. 8 ranking in the RPI isn’t translating fully to the PWR.

Looking Good, But Pay Attention To The Details

No. 8 Nebraska-Omaha: This one requires us to look very closely at the elements of the PairWise. First, UNO is benefiting from the CCHA Effect, which is to say that the Mavericks are getting RPI help from the conference’s strong non-league showing despite an overall record of just 14-11-3. Also, the Mavs have beaten teams near them in the PWR, including New Hampshire, Ferris State (2-0-0), Ohio State (1-0-1), and Providence. UNO’s TUC record is 11-9-3 (.5435), which is decent — notice, by the way, the total of 23 games that count in there. That’s part of why UNO is placed so highly in the RPI. UNO’s RPI of .5397 is 12th overall, meaning that the Mavericks are in danger of dropping if the benefits of TUCs, common opponents and head-to-head records don’t hold up.

No. 10 (tie) St. Cloud State: The Huskies have suddenly interjected themselves into the NCAA tournament picture with an impressive run of recent wins, culminating in last weekend’s sweep of North Dakota, on the road no less (not that the PWR cares about home/road splits). But SCSU could bounce around like a pinball in the next few weeks. Its RPI of .5336 is only 16th, which makes a better PWR ranking the product of secondary statistics like common opponents and head-to-head. Because of that, a .500 record against TUCs will probably need to improve to keep the Huskies in competition for an at-large berth.

No. 10 (tie) Cornell: The knock on the Big Red two weeks ago was that they had compiled a lofty winning percentage mostly against second-tier competition. That’s less true now after a sweep of Clarkson and St. Lawrence, but Cornell’s PWR is built on a shaky foundation. The Big Red are only 17th in the country in RPI (.5322), and are winning several head-to-head comparisons — five, to be exact — thanks to a 4-2-0 (.6667) record against TUCs. Just like two weeks ago, that winning percentage is impressive (which is what counts in the PWR), but with so few games involved, losses against TUCs (Cornell has five such games left in the regular season) could cripple the team’s NCAA bid.

Slipping Down The Rankings

No. 10 (tie) St. Lawrence: The Saints, the darlings of the early PWR, haven’t helped themselves the last two weeks, winning just one of four games against the ECACHL’s best. In particular, a 5-8-1 TUC record (.3929) hurts a lot, pulling SLU down from its RPI ranking of No. 7 when the whole PairWise is assembled. Only three games against TUCs are left in St. Lawrence’s regular season, meaning that the Saints had better win at least two, if not all three, of those contests to stay in the hunt.

No. 24 (tie) Vermont: It’s been a stunning dropoff for the Catamounts. A sweep at the hands of Boston College was forgivable, but following that up by splitting with Merrimack has left UVM in big trouble. A .5169 RPI (Vermont has only the nation’s 45th-toughest schedule out of 58 tournament-eligible teams, according to aggregate RPI) isn’t going to get you into the NCAA tournament, and neither is a 4-6-2 (.4167) record against TUCs. The good news for Vermont is that there’s still time to rebuild its credentials, but the Cats had better start winning soon, and plenty. Their next four games are against Providence and Maine, both TUCs.

Stuck In Neutral — For Now, At Least

No. 20 Denver: If the Pioneers don’t make the NCAAs, you’ll be able to point to one weekend in December. DU lost two at its own Denver Cup, dropping a shocking decision to Princeton (killing its RPI) and then losing to Ferris State (giving the Bulldogs a head-to-head point in their comparison). A sweep of Wisconsin seems like it should have helped more than it has, but in fact the Pioneers can easily turn several comparisons they’re currently losing because of a .500 record against TUCs. DU’s last three WCHA regular-season series are against TUCs Minnesota, North Dakota and archrival Colorado College. Those six games will be critical, to say the least.

No. 21 (tie) Maine: The Black Bears, despite winning three of their last four games, are still hamstrung by their TUC record (4-8-0, .3333). Luckily for Tim Whitehead’s crew, there are still six games left in the regular season against TUCs — and of course, other teams Maine has played may bounce into TUC status by season’s end. But like Vermont, Maine’s current RPI of .5267 (20th) — the byproduct of the nation’s 39th-toughest schedule — isn’t going to be good enough.

No. 23 Colgate: Four wins in four games since the PWR’s debut haven’t helped the Raiders — yet. That’s because Colgate, as mentioned two weeks ago, dug itself a brutal hole with a terrible TUC record. That record is much better now after beating Clarkson and St. Lawrence, but 3-5-2 (.400) is below marginal for a team hoping to make the NCAAs, and the nation’s 44th-ranked schedule is hurting the RPI despite Colgate’s 15-6-5 record. Like Maine and Denver, Colgate can continue to right the ship in the next couple of weeks against tough opponents, but the distance between the Raiders and the bubble is no small leap.