Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Headlines: Is the NCAA Ice Hockey Selection Process Broken?

Brian: And just like that, a season ends in 44 seconds.

BU1-1 6x6
Zach Cohen (10) (John McCarthy, David Warsofsky)11:01
BU2-1 6x6
Brian Strait (2) (John McCarthy)11:22
BU 3-1 6x6GWColin Wilson (15) (Jason Lawrence, Chris Higgins)11:45

I can't think of a more painful way to have your season - and for Anthony Aiello, Tim Filangieri, Tim Kunes, Kyle Kucharski, Brock Bradford, Benn Ferriero, and Andrew Orpik, a college career - end so abruptly. We watched the game at Hairy Monk in NYC and Boston College and York's boys gave Boston University all they had, which was good enough for nearly 50 of the 60 minutes. And just like that, a three goal span of 44 seconds ended the Eagles season.

Boston University then went on to beat UMass-Lowell 1-0 in the Hockey East championship game for their seventh tournament championship.

The NCAA selection committee announced the pairings for the 2009 NCAA men's hockey tournament, and predictably BC was not one of the 16 teams. Likely one game and one goal too short. From Hockey East, Boston University is the No. 1 overall seed and will play in the Northeast regional in Manchester, NH, along with the No. 3 seeded New Hampshire Wildcats. Northeastern earns the No. 2 seed and has to go to Grand Rapids, MI. Finally, Vermont also earned a No. 3 seed and plays in the East regional in Bridgeport, CT.

Ohio State was the last at-large team in the tournament, as the Buckeyes finished the regular season with a PairWise ranking good for a tie for 15th. If this was the NCAA men's basketball tournament, you would say that Boston College was in the "First Four Out" category along with Wisconsin, Minnesota and St. Lawrence.

What seems somewhat curious is that some of the at-large teams failed to go deep into their own conference tournaments. In Hockey East, Lowell and BC swept Vermont and New Hampshire, respectively, on the road in the Hockey East quarterfinals, yet UVM and New Hampshire are "Dancing" while the River Hawks and the Eagles are staying home.

In the CCHA, both Ohio State and Miami (OH) lost in the CCHA quarterfinals to Alaska and Northern Michigan, respectively, but both the Buckeyes and the Red Hawks are rewarded for their CCHA tournament mediocrity with NCAA tournament berths.

In the WCHA, Minnesota-Duluth became the first team to participate in the 4 v. 5 play-in game and take the conference championship, defeating Denver 4-0. Yet UMD only earned the 2nd seed in the Midwest/Minneapolis region, a region where - get this - Denver is the No. 1 seed. If the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds advance, UMD will be forced to defeat Denver once again to advance to the Frozen Four.

To make matters worse, each of these conference tournaments take on different formats. The WCHA - like Hockey East - has 10 teams but has an entirely different conference playoff format, with all 10 teams playing in a best-of-three opening round before the "Final Five" play in a play-in game + semifinal + final and third place game format. ECAC also has a third place game, which gives teams another opportunity to improve their PairWise rankings.

The two bloggers at Coming Down the Pipe! go off on this issue of who goes to the tournament and who stays home. They claim it makes no sense that UMass-Lowell and Boston College should be left out of the NCAA tournament's field of 16 while Vermont and New Hampshire make the tournament. There doesn't seem to be any emphasis placed on how you are playing at the end of the season in the conference tournament. And the confusion over the conference tournament formats makes the whole thing even more complicated.

Jeff, I know you don't follow college hockey as closely as I do, but think of this situation in the context of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Possibly to a fault, the men's selection committee plays too much emphasis on the season-ending conference tournaments in determining who makes the field of 65. Should a similar emphasis be placed on play in the season-ending conference tournaments in men's ice hockey? Or is the PWR ranking system and NCAA selection committee criteria OK as is in your book?

Jeff: Does the R in PWR stand for ranking? If so, wouldn't it just be PWR system, not Pair Wise Ranking ranking system? But back to the question, the criteria is OK as it is. It's OK, not perfect, but not bad either because at least it is predictable. The Eagles knew they needed to win at least one more game to get in. They didn't and so they're not. I have no problem with that. If the selection system were going to be improved, late season play should be emphasized and conference tournament runs should enable teams to get into the tournament just as in basketball. You want the 16 teams in the tournament that have the best chance of winning it. Right now, Boston College would've had a better chance of winning the tournament than some of the teams selected.

Brian: I agree that you want the best 16 teams in the country to be in the tournament. The problem is that there are 3 really good conferences (Hockey East, CCHA and WCHA), 1 so-so conference (ECAC) and two really bad conferences (CHA, Atlantic Hockey) that get auto bids.

Things will get a little better next season as this is the last year that College Hockey America will exist. That will mean one less auto bid for a conference that hardly ever does anything in the NCAAs and one more at-large berth.

This probably all sounds like sour grapes but I think it says something when you look at the number of teams from each conference that received berths to the NCAA tournament. Only 4 Hockey East teams make the NCAAs when Hockey East was clearly the best conference in the country this year. Four teams are the same number of teams that the CCHA got into the tournament. The WCHA gets three bids, the ECAC gets two, Atlantic Hockey gets one and College Hockey America gets one.

Also, it is a bit frustrating to have two teams from the same conference in the same regional. I would have serious gripes with the seedings if I was New Hampshire or Minnesota-Duluth, who have to go through conference opponent's Boston U. and Denver to reach the Frozen Four. All the selection committee had to do was shuffle around Boston U. and Denver to keep a max of 1 team from Hockey East, CCHA and the WCHA in each regional.

Hard to find a team I like in this year's tournament, especially with Boston U. and Notre Dame receiving No. 1 seeds. I feel obligated to root for Hockey East, but since I can't stand BU, New Hampshire or Northeastern, I'm going to back Vermont. Oh yeah, and Bemidji State, because they don't have a shot in hell. Go Beavers!


conlonc said...

I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree here. I say that even if the selection committee weighed the end of the season more favorably, that BC did not deserve to be in the tourney. They woke up too late IMO - a good team doesn't wait that long to start their charge. I agree they played much better over their last 5, but in a game where literally anything can happen (still have a bruise on my hand from slamming the Garden seats right in front of me after the 3 consecutive lights), the team needs to jack it up earlier so a random event or moment of guard-dropping doesn't do them in.

Hopefully they'll be better next year because of it. Maybe use it as some motivation to steal back the Terrier's dominance over us. I can't bring myself to watch a Frozen Four without them even having a sniff. Too bad cuz DC is so close and I would have been there in a heartbeat.

Brian said...

I'm not necessarily arguing that BC and Lowell should have made the tournament field this year.

I do think that they should either tweak the PWR or go to a more subjective NCAA basketball tournament selection process, using PWR as one but not THE definitive selection criteria. How about also considering record in last 10 games? Splitting out record from RPI in the PWR calculation? What about SOS?

Under the current system, teams like UVM or UNH who were safely in the Top 10 of the PWR could have got swept at home in the Hockey East quarterfinals and still made the tournament as they did. You could argue that the current system provides incentives to bowing out of a conference tournament early and resting your team if you know you are safely in the NCAA tournament field.

I think they need to place more emphasis on the conference tournaments results either in the PWR or as an additional selection criteria. Going hand in hand with that would be having a more consistent postseason conference tournament format for the four major conferences (CCHA, WCHA, Hockey East, ECAC), since currently these conference tournament games are more or less treated as just another regular season game.

conlonc said...

very, very true. Of course not everyone treats them like another regular season game...BC and Lowell sure didn't. And this is true of most b-ball conference tourneys - the teams with more to gain or only a chance through autobid take it way more seriously. Lute Olsen has been quoted as saying it's not important, but tell that to USC this year or UGA last year.

I won't profess to be a puck head, but as you said it really comes down to whether you would prefer to know for sure or whether you'd want that human element that people seem to complain about so much. If BC had been chosen over a team ahead of them in the PWR or whatever system you use, imagine the uproar. Or when the big 3 conferences get 13 of the 16 teams in the dance. I guess it'd be like Zona making the tourney this year. Good thing Boeheim got in so we didn't have to hear him go on and on about that one!

Nick P. said...

I may be mistaken, but I believe the PWR system takes into account strength of schedule.

I actually think it's a pretty good system. The reason I believe this is that it judges the team based on the strength of their entire season rather than just the end of it (i.e the conference tournament). I've never been fully comfortable with discounting the games at the beginning of a season. They should count just as much as those at the end of the season. The "discount" model suites the purposes of the fans, whose interests are inherently inequitable. The PWR system reduces subjectivity to the greatest extent possible in the interest of the teams and gives all games played throughout the season an equal weight (relative to the opponent).

Brian said...

SOS is factored into the RPI but only in combination with your record. And RPI is only one of the four components that makes up the PWR (the other three being record against teams ranked in the PWR, record against common opponents and head-to-head competition).

So SOS actually counts very little when it comes to the PWR. E.g. look at the SOS of the teams that were "first four out."

Wisconsin - 1
UMass-Lowell - 3
Boston College - 4
Minnesota - 6

The ECAC actually got two at-large berths this year in Princeton (22-11-1) and Cornell (21-9-4), but their record is inflated because they beat up on ECAC competition all year. Take a look at their SOS rank:

Princeton - 34
Cornell - 36

They played no one decent out of conference but because they have a strong record in the regular season, they get in.

This is where the system needs tweaking I think. SOS needs to be weighted more into the selection process instead of basically being 1/8 of the equation at present.

JP from Dorchester said...

Remember, if the system put more emphasis on conference tournaments, BC would have been hurt when they lost to BU in the first round of Hockey East in 03-04. If anyone got screwed here, it was Lowell. They won their comparison with BC but didnt play alot of top 25 teams outside of their Hockey East opponents, so they ended up ranked below us. BC underachieved all year.

The way hockey ranks their tourney teams definitely doesn't factor in hot teams who make runs in their conference tournament. With the tournament field the size that it is (not too long ago there were only 12 teams in, not 16 btw), the NCAA has to make sure they get the best 16 teams over the entire course of a year. It should be noted that most of a team's big nonconference games are scheduled before the Christmas break. To discount a team's performance in those games, the games that are most like what they will see come tourney time, I think is selling a team short.

CW said...

Hey. I see you mention Tim Kunes career at BC is obviously now over. Anyone know of his plans now? Is he signing with the Hurricanes or heading elsewhere?

Brian said...

Don't have any info on Kunes. I'd imagine he'll be playing in the Carolina farm system next season, but haven't heard of him signing anywhere.

Of those seniors mentioned, I know Filangieri signed with the Syracuse Crunch, but don't have news on the other guys.