In a blog post earlier this week on the website for The Lowell Sun, which covers UMass Lowell, a writer admitted that he didn’t “know squat” about the Pairwise. That’s fine. Unless you’re a college hockey diehard, you probably wouldn’t know the difference between the Pairwise and a pair a shoes.
But that didn’t stop the newspaper from publishing a front-page column on Tuesday, where the lede was “The UMass Lowell hockey team got screwed,” and calling the River Hawks “victims of a computer” in its headline.
Before I sat down to write this blog post, I asked my laptop if it had any bias against any particular college hockey programs. It didn’t answer me.
Well, if you “don’t know squat” about the Pairwise, perhaps you shouldn’t pen a column on the subject. Or, if you’d like, here’s a great post that will explain it for you.
If you want to argue that the Pairwise isn’t the best way to compare and rank college hockey teams, then OK. I’m on board. In fact, I think the KRACH Ratings is a much better way to compare teams. But you know what? The NCAA doesn’t agree with me. More specifically, the coaches that vote on the system in place do not agree with me. And that’s fine. But they all agree to the system as it’s currently structured.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: UMass Lowell, Bowling Green, or any other team that missed out on the NCAA Tournament did NOT “get screwed.” They simply didn’t measure up against the teams that are in the field, using the system everyone agrees to use. Plain and simple. That’s all it is.
If anyone is looking for a reason that UMass Lowell, specifically, missed the NCAAs, I’d point to a stretch where the River Hawks went 2-7-1 in January against some mediocre competition, at least mediocre according to the Pairwise.
Take a 2-1 loss at Merrimack on Jan. 30 as an example. The River Hawks out-attempted the Warriors 94-29 that night at Lawler Rink. If you flip that result to a win for UMass Lowell, the River Hawks are in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, if you flipped any of those losses, UMass Lowell would be dancing this week.
Considering Bowling Green missed out by 0.002 in its RPI, my guess is the story is similar with the Falcons.
So there’s your reason. No backdoor politics or fuzzy math. Losses. That’s why kept UMass Lowell and other teams out of the NCAAs.
It’s really not that hard to figure out.
But let’s look at some other points in the column, that are also common arguments for how a team “got screwed.”
“… but the polls conducted by coaches and media do not [count]. UMass Lowell was ranked 12th and 14th in the major polls.”
An objective mathematical formula that is used to compare every team equally “screwed” a team. How should we fix it? With subjective opinions! That’s how!
That’s probably the worst suggestion of the entire piece.
“And here’s the clincher: No greater value is placed on a win in the conference tournament than on a win on a Friday night in January. They are equal in value.
That’s preposterous. I mean, why even play the tournament games?”
Well why even play the regular season? That’s the beauty of this system. Games in October, they count, too. Every game counts. The games UMass Lowell played this past weekend, they counted. I’m not opposed to the idea of weighting conference tournament games differently, but I’m not sure it would have mattered in this case. And again, that’s not the system the coaches, including Norm Bazin, have agreed to by majority vote.
Also, why even play the conference tournament games? Well, you play the tournament games to win the conference’s automatic bid, which Lowell could have done had it beaten Boston University on Saturday.
None of this is to say that UMass Lowell wouldn’t compete just fine in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I think they would. The River Hawks won 21 games. That’s nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it’s damn impressive. But the reason they’re not competing this weekend is mainly due to losses in some very winnable games. Merrimack, UConn, UMass (twice!) are all games Lowell should have won. In a stretch of five games against those teams in January and February, the River Hawks went a combined 1-3-1.
Every game counts.
“And why even have a committee? Just let some computer geek in Palo Alto print out the spreadsheet.
It doesn’t add up”
Ahh, geeks. There it is. If you like statistics, or numbers, you’re a geek.
And actually it does add up. See, that’s the crazy thing about a mathematical formula, it adds up.
“In the Hockey East semifinals at the TD Garden, Lowell routed Vermont, 4-1, on Friday. It was through to the championship game against top-ranked Boston University. Count for anything? About the same as that big win over UConn on Dec. 3.”
Actually, no. The win over Vermont on Friday counted for a lot more than a win over UConn on December 3. That’s because Vermont is ranked higher in the Pairwise than UConn, so it definitely helped more. Again, that’s the funny thing about math. It usually adds up.
“Apparently, because some underdog won some game out in Minnesota, UML had been bumped down in the computer rankings, despite winning.”
Again, no. UML had “been bumped down” thanks to a bad stretch of results about two months ago. That’s really it.
“It’s not even the fact that RIT was an automatic selection from the Atlantic League, which is nothing more than a glorified Division 2 conference, with Bentley, Sacred Heart, AIC and Mercyhurst among its members. (Quickie quiz: Where the hell is Mercyhurst?).”
Way to be a self-righteous jerk.
By the way, Mercyhurst is in Pennsylvania.
The column ends with a rant on the NCHC, and how it could have possibly put six teams into the NCAAs, neglecting to include the NCHC’s sparkling non-conference record, where it basically obliterated every other conference. Six of eight teams had a non-conference winning percentage of .667 or better in the NCHC. Hockey East had six also, but that’s out of 12 teams. Four Hockey East teams finished with a non-conference winning percentage of .458 or worse, and three of those were below .400.
I “don’t know squat” about NASCAR, and I don’t write about it.
Maybe that’s the best lesson here. Don’t write about things you admittedly “don’t know squat” about.