Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Jan. 13, 2009

Jim: Another week in the books and top-ranked Notre Dame held serve and remained at the top of the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll. That said, with the release of the PairWise Rankings late last week, the nation now has a clearer view on how the big picture shakes out. One thing that may have turned some heads is the fact that Boston University sits on top of the PWR, with Notre Dame, despite an 18-game unbeaten streak, tied for fourth with Northeastern. I had the chance to see BU play last weekend against a pretty good Maine team and the Terriers were dominant from the word go. BU controlled the play, limited Maine’s offensive chances and created plenty of opportunities against the Black Bears. That performance convinced me to swap the Terriers and Fighting Irish on my ballot this week, but I was only one of two voters to do so. So the question stands: does Notre Dame have to lose to relinquish the top spot in the poll or will voters realize the difficulty of BU’s schedule and give them credit for that?

Peter Lenes' strong weekend helped Vermont take three of four points from Boston College (photo: Melissa Wade).

Peter Lenes’ strong weekend helped Vermont take three of four points from Boston College (photo: Melissa Wade).

Scott: Jim, I’m always interested in that kind of question, especially when the PairWise makes its debut each season. You know I’m a numbers guy, and when I see disparities between the polls and the PWR I go looking for the reason. In this case, BU has played the No. 2 schedule in the nation according to strength of schedule computed by the Rating Percentage Index, while Notre Dame is 26th in SOS. Part of that is the back-loaded nature of the Fighting Irish’s schedule this season. During its 18-game unbeaten streak, ND has played just two games against teams currently ranked in the PairWise top 25, and just one (Boston College) against a team currently in the poll (to be fair, Notre Dame knocked Alaska out of both rankings with its sweep last weekend). Coming up for Jeff Jackson’s charges: six games out of their last 12 CCHA conference matchups against poll- and PairWise-ranked squads. If the Irish keep it up against teams like Michigan, there will be no doubt whatsoever about their credentials.

Jim: Well, thank God we have your mind to do the number-crunching. I guess the truest test for Notre Dame lies ahead, so it will be interesting to see if the Irish can maintain their current level. Back to Boston University. That is a team that really is playing well right now. They’re getting timely scoring, great goaltending and, all in all, seem like the dominant force in the East if not the country. Despite all that, they’re still fourth place in Hockey East. It seems strange for a club to be No. 1 in the PairWise, No. 2 in the polls and No. 4 in your own 10-team conference. Strange indeed but a heck of a statement for Hockey East.

Scott: Indeed it is. Hockey East has three of the top four teams in the PairWise (and consequently three of the four No. 1 seeds if the season ended today), and though that’s unlikely to hold up as HEA squads play one another down the stretch, there are other interesting results as well. The WCHA has just two teams in the tournament as of today, but four of the top five teams on the wrong side of the bubble are from that league, some of which will almost certainly rise. Cornell and Princeton are both strongly in the mix, and our favorite first-half squad, Air Force, is hanging on despite a couple of costly losses recently. And then there’s the team no one saw coming: Ohio State, which has won 10 straight games and is also in position to contend for an NCAA bid. We could talk about the PWR all season — and we will, here and elsewhere on USCHO.com — but what else has your attention this week?

Jim: Well, the Hockey East slate is pretty impressive this week with four of the top five teams facing off Friday or Saturday night, or both. Boston College and BU renew their rivalry on Saturday at Agganis Arena. BC, which faces Mass.-Lowell on Friday, has been reeling of late and picked up just a point in a two-game series at Vermont over the weekend. Both games saw BC blow leads, one in the final second of play. Down the street, first-place Northeastern will face third-place Vermont. This is the ultimate PWR battle — both teams are ranked in the top four. Another game that grabs my attention is Michigan State and Miami. The RedHawks really need to right the ship after an awful weekend on the road at Michigan. That said, the Spartans have played decent hockey since the break after an awful first half. How about you? What do you see as the big games on the radar screen this week?

Scott: In the WCHA, I’d point out St. Cloud State against Minnesota in a home-and-home, and Colorado College at Wisconsin for two. Three of those four teams are among the ones fighting to get into position for the NCAAs, and the fourth — Minnesota — looked terrible last weekend in getting swept by North Dakota and could head in the wrong direction very quickly in both the conference standings and the national rankings if the Gophers don’t come out of their funk at both ends of the ice. Also, I’m going to highlight Canisius at Air Force. This doesn’t have that much to do with the Golden Griffins — no offense intended — but mostly with the fact that every AFA game from here on out has major implications. As much as Atlantic Hockey has improved over the years, its teams’ PWR and RPI credentials are not strong apart from Air Force and possibly RIT. If the Falcons drop more than one or two games over the next two months, they’re looking at needing the AHA tournament title to get into the NCAAs after all.

Jim: St. Cloud is a good team to highlight. The Huskies played very well down in Florida over the break and last weekend easily handled Minnesota-Duluth. I know I was shocked at Minnesota’s results last weekend, so how this series plays out could be telling about what to expect in the home stretch for the WCHA. Your point about Air Force is well-noted. The Falcons’ margin for error is slim right now given the fact that since starting the year 13-0-0, the Falcons are 2-4-1 in their last seven. You’re the math guy but that is certainly telling about Atlantic Hockey’s overall conference RPI. Even though it feels like the league is making huge strides, they’re still a notch below when it comes to overall conference power.

Scott: Agreed. And to finish up, I’ll throw out the name of a team we haven’t discussed much this season: Ohio State. The Buckeyes haven’t had a winning season since 2004-05, making the last of three straight NCAA appearances that year, and won just 12 games in 2007-08. OSU wasn’t expected to do much this season either, having been picked to finish seventh in the league by the coaches and ninth by the media. And after they started the season 2-5-1, it looked like the Buckeyes were on their way to matching those expectations. Then something funny happened: Ohio State found its offense and sophomore goaltender Dustin Carlson started keeping opposing scorers off the board. Now OSU is 13-1 in its last 14 and has won 10 straight, with games against Ferris State on tap this weekend. Like the Fighting Irish, though, the Buckeye’s schedule is back-loaded, with its final five CCHA regular-season series against Alaska, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan and finally Miami. Just some food for thought as we search for this season’s second-half stars. Until next week…