Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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WCHA teams need to start winning more nonconference games -- like now

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under WCHA news Updated: December 28, 2011 - 9:08 AM

If the college hockey season ended right now -- before Thursday night's games -- WCHA people would be crying.

According to the current PairWise rating, a mathematical comparison of teams which mimics how the NCAA fills out its 16-team NCAA field, as few as two WCHA would be in hockey's big dance, three at most.

What in the *%@& is going on?

Defending national champion Minnesota Duluth is No. 2 in the PairWise rankings, the Gophers are No. 6. Both would receive at-large invitations. And, if one of them one the Final Five for the conference's automatic bid, they would probably be the only two in the NCAA tournament. If some other conference team won the Final Five at the X, then the WCHA would have three teams in.

So who would be in, right now?

The five champions of the postseason tournaments. For purposes of this example, we will assume all the favorites win those tournaments, not too likely.

So the teams in would be:

From the WCHA, two teams: the Gophers as conference champions -- they beat UMD twice early in the season so let's assume they win the Final Five -- and UMD.

From the CCHA, seven teams: Ohio State as the conference champion -- Buckeyes are No. 1 in the PairWise ratings -- No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 7 Western Michigan, Northern Michigan and Michigan State, tied for No. 9, No. 11 Ferris State and Lake Superior State, tied for No. 13. Double Wow there. ... Traditional powers Miami and Michigan are not even in this bunch.

From the Hockey East,  four teams: Boston College as conference champion -- No. 3 in PairWise -- No. 5 Boston University, No. 8 Merrimack and Mass.-Lowell, tied for No. 11.

From the ECAC, one team: Colgate -- tied for No. 13 in PairWise -- as the conference champion. Cologate A would be an at-large entry in if somebody else in conference won ECAC tournament for automatic bid.

From Atlantic Hockey, one team: Air Force as the conference champion. Not on its PairWise rating, Falcons is way down, tied for No. 31.

Add up all those teams, that's 15. Room for one more. Colorado College,  No. 15 in PairWise, just makes it in. But this assumes no upsets in five conference tournaments. If Cornell wins ECAC, for instance, CC is out.

Cornell actually has a better conference record than Colgate, but Colgate has a higher PairWise ratings and a better overall record so I pegged them as the favorite in the ECAC.

So why is the WCHA hurting so much on the national stage? Two reasons. WCHA teams are beating each other up. Only four teams have a conference winning percentage above .500.

And outside the conference, WCHA teams are only 29-19-5, or .594.

The CCHA is clobbering the WCHA, 10-5-1.

Hockey East is playing the WCHA even, 5-5-3.

And even the ECAC is doing pretty well, down only 3-5-1.

The WCHA has a nonconference advantage only because it is 9-0-0 against the weaker Atlantic Hockey teams and 5-1 against the one independent in big boy college hockey, Alabama Huntsville.

Those comparisons make a difference when the computer crunches numbers.

Even though the Gophers are in good shape in terms of their PairWise standing, their nonconference record is not too hot, just 3-2-1 with three final nonconference games on tap. They will play Niagara (Atlantic Hockey), either Northeastern (Hockey East) or Princeton (ECAC) this weekend and Notre Dame (CCHA) once next weekend.

Altogether,  eight WCHA teams will play 16 nonconference games this weekend. Going 12-4 or 13-3 would help the WCHA's cause.

UMD and Alaska Anchorage are idle; Wisconsin and Minnesota State play exhibition games against the under-18 U.S. national team on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Then, counting the Irish at the U, there are 12 more nonconference games next weekend. After that it's nothing but WCHA games for the 12 conference teams. Time to get to work.

PREDICTIONS AT LAST

Thursday's games

Michigan State vs. Michigan Tech in Great Lakes Invitational. ... MSU was a ugher opponent for Gophers than Tech. ... SPARTANS WIN

Western Michigan at St. Cloud State for two games, second on Fri.. ... Huskies play well at home, so ... SPLIT

Friday's games

Michigan Tech vs. Michigan or Boston College in Great Lakes Invitational. ... Whoever Tech plays ... TECH LOSES

Niagara vs. Gophers on Friday, and Northeastern or Princeton vs. Gophers on Saturday in Mariucci Classic. It won't be easy without Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau but ... GOPHERS SWEEP

Bowling Green at Bemidji State for two games, second on Sat. ... Bowling Green is not one of the CCHA's top teams; it is 12th out of 12 teams, in fact. ... BEAVERS SWEEP

 Harvard at North Dakota for two games, second on Sat. ... Emotional weekend for Fighting Sioux and their fans. Last time the team can use that nickname. ... SIOUX SWEEP

Quinnipiac at Nebraska Omaha for two games, second on Sat. ... UNO coach Dean Blais is gone, coaching the U.S. team in the World Juniors. But ex-Gophers coach Mike Hastings, Blais' top assistant, knows what he is doing. ... UNO SWEEPS

Air Force at Colorado College. ... CC is 6-1 at home. ... TIGERS WIN

Union at Denver. ... Union at 7-1-3 has one of best road records in nation, but ... DU WINS

Saturday's games

Denver at Air Force. ... Even with Jason Zucker gone for the World Juniors, DU still has too many Shores. ... DU WINS

Union at Colorado College. ... Jaden Schwartz is captain of Canada's team in the World Juniors, but brother Rylan can play, too, and has three hat tricks. ... CC WINS

So if all that happens, the WCHA teams would go 13-3. It's possible. Doubt it. Maybe 12-4, 11-5 but can't pick out the loses so I will stay my rosy outlook for the conference this weekend. 

By the way, last weekend I was 6-1 picking games involving WCHA teams. There was no guest picker last week or this week. Have couple in mind for future.

 

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