Season 3 Episode 17 of the Chasing MacNaughton Podcast from Tech Hockey Guide; Tech Hockey God, a Pairwise Primer. This week, Tim Braun, Dustin Lindstrom, Rob Gilreath and Matt Cavender were guest-less and spent the majority of the podcast explaining Pairwise which is the system used to select the NCAA tournament field for ice hockey.

Troll Holiday Classic review

Before diving into the Pairwise conversation, the guys did a brief review of the Troll Holiday Classic. Rob thought that the Michigan game was entertaining to watch, if only to make Matt angry. Matt thought both games were played well, but as a fan felt the Michigan game the most useless game he’s ever been to. The guys then discussed Justin Misiak’s penalty shot and whether coach Joe Shawhan should have turned down the penalty shot and taken a power play instead. Matt said that he enjoyed the Michigan State game and thought it was a classic Tech game where they dominate the pace of play and outshoot the opponent, only to lose in the end. Dustin’s thoughts were that the theme of the showcase was “just disappointing” and added that he got flashbacks to last year and the way Tech played.

Pairwise Primer

Disclaimer: I have done my best to summarize the conversation that the guys had regarding the Pairwise system and how it works. However, I am not an expert on the subject and was learning a lot myself while listening. I feel that what I have written here does not do the conversation justice as Tim did a VERY good job at laying everything out in a good, sensible way. It would be impossible for me to get the entire explanation across without providing a complete transcription of the podcast. Go listen and get educated!

Tim decided to focus the podcast this week on the Pairwise system because he realized that not everyone has a complete understanding of it like he does. He started by referencing the College Hockey New (CHN) article titled “NCAA Tournament Primer” which provides an in depth look into the NCAA hockey tournament and how the teams are selected and seeded. Tim then explained that unlike other NCAA sports, the field for the hockey tournament is not chosen by a “smoke filled room”. There are three criteria in which teams are evaluated and chosen. He explained the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) which is based on your team’s win percentage, your team’s opponents win percentage and your team’s opponents’ opponents win percentage. Each of these values are weighted, which Tim then explained some of the flaws behind the weighting. Tim said that the weighting favors the best conference in the country because even the worst teams in that conference are usually pretty good.

Tim then discussed how this system can make it difficult for us as fans to know who to root for in a given weekend because the percentages are so far removed from our team. Dustin then talked about the importance of out of conference scheduling and how teams should want to play the worst teams in the best conferences, which will provide a boost to the opponents opponents percentage.

Next, Tim covered the second and third criteria. The second criteria is the record against common opponents, and the third is head to head record. When comparing teams, a point is given for every win, a point is given for better RPI, and a point is provided for better common opponents record. Tim then discussed the lack of ability to flip a comparison to another team without having a head to head matchup. Tim then talked about the system that USCHO and CHN use which is the KRACH (Ken’s Ranking of American College Hockey) (Note: Tim misspoke the name of this system during the podcast and erroneously called it Kevin’s ranking).

The guys then discussed the quality win bonus and how it relates to RPI. Tim explained the old Teams Under Consideration (TUC) system and how it was flawed. Teams were “under consideration” if they were in the Top 20, but if they fell out, you team’s record against them disappeared. The quality win bonus rule was created to eliminate the flaws of the TUC system. Tim explained that in the case of the Troll Holiday Classic, Tech gets 45% of a quality win bonus for losing in OT to Michigan State and 50% of a quality win bonus for tying Michigan. He did share his disappointment though, saying that it would have been nice for them to have received a full share.

Dustin felt it was important to explain that the NCAA has never published this selection criteria anywhere. He then explained that Pairwise has been correct in predicting the NCAA tournament field 100% since it was started in 1999. Matt said that it’s mind blowing that hockey nerds figured out the formula for the selection and added that he likes that there’s a rationale behind how the teams are chosen for the tournament.

Michigan Tech and Notre Dame comparison

The guys then spent some time discussing the comparison between Michigan Tech and Notre Dame. This conversation was tied back to Joe Shawhan’s comments two weeks ago expressing his frustration with the implication of OT games on Pairwise. Tim explained that right now, Tech has a better RPI than Notre Dame and sits at 14th in the country versus 16th for the Irish. However, the Irish are winning the comparison because they beat Tech in OT and have a better record against the common opponents. Tim said that Tech will have a very hard time flipping this comparison and then went on to explain how the gimmicky nature of 3v3 OT is not well suited for the Pairwise implications

Tim then spent some time explaining how Tech can flip some comparisons in the future. He explained that if Tech plays in more tournaments and wins those games, they can flip the comparisons by being 1-0 against a team. He added that it is difficult to swallow being behind Notre Dame in this scenario. Matt thought that Notre Dame had earned their due by winning the game and that they deserve the comparison boost.

The guys then discussed how the Pairwise system relies on out of conference games being played. Dustin provided an example from last season, in which the COVID-19 pandemic forced most teams to only play within their conferences. In Dustin’s example, the teams that would have made the tournament based on Pairwise were vastly different than the ones that actually did. Tim then talked about how Pairwise still suffers due to the lack of east versus west inter-conference play.

Listener question

There was one listener question related to the topic which asked if it is possible for Tech to win their next six games and still fall in the Pairwise. The answer was essentially “No”, unless all of the teams currently sitting below Tech all go 6-0 AND play tougher schedules. The guys then spent some more time discussing the weighting of the selection criteria.

LSSU series preview

After wrapping up the Pairwise conversation, the guys did a preview of the upcoming series against Lake Superior State University. Rob said he just wants to see Tech score goals and Dustin added that they need to sweep. Dustin also tied the conversation back to the Pairwise discussion and said that it doesn’t matter if Tech doesn’t win. Tim thought that Tech would get into the tournament if they win the majority of their remaining games and he said that he expects Tech to sweep this weekend. Matt had the most trouble of the four when making his prediction, but ultimately predicted that Tech would win 5-1 each night. Dustin thought that the fans would continue to be frustrated and the weekend would be a split. Rob agreed with Dustin and added that Tech doesn’t seem to have the desire to go out and beat the crap out of a team two nights in a row.

Cut for time

This week’s cut time for Patrons is approximately 25 minutes long. The guys discussed Tech not being great on breakaways and how Tech needs to make 3v3 OT work for them. They also discussed Joe Shawhan’s comments on 3v3 OT. Tim shared his dislike of how OT is counted in the Pairwise and Matt got confused with point systems and how points are given in the NHL. The guys talked about Tech’s problem with dominating shot totals, but not the scoreboard. There was a more in depth conversation revolving around the listener question and what Tech’s record should and will be over the next six games. The guys discussed which current Tech player is most likely to sign with an NHL team this week. Matt talked about the stuffed animal cow he owns.

Learn More

For additional information and more episode liner notes, check out our episode overview on Tech Hockey Guide. To make sure we can afford all our fancy equipment we purchased for the podcast and the THG website in general, please check out our Patreon page and consider joining. Patrons at our Black Level or above receive an authentic MTU jersey patch and access to extra podcast content including extended versions of our other episodes. This week’s extended version is about 104 minutes.

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