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Gopher Hockey: Minnesota Has a Lot of Work Left to Make the NCAA Tournament

The Gophers can do this the easy way....or the hard way.

if the Gophers want to raise more trophies, they may need some help.
if the Gophers want to raise more trophies, they may need some help.

Things appeared to get back to the way they should be in Gopherland after the University of Minnesota Hockey Team swept Penn State at home to win the regular season Big Ten Championship for the second season in a row.  While the Gophers will be hanging one banner next fall, if the want to hang a second, or even a third, they still have a tough road ahead of them.  While we would like to say winning both games late week put Minnesota safely in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens this weekend in Detroit, we can't.  In fact, if Minnesota does not win the Big Ten Tournament, there is going to be a lot of sweating come Saturday night.

Minnesota's Chances Explained

We have been praising the work of blogger Jim Dahl of on here the last few weeks.  He does the hard math, so we can try and describe what it all means.  In one of his more recent posts, he runs all 3,145,728 remaining possible outcomes of this weekend's conference tournaments to determine the percentage chance of each team making the NCAA Tournament, and for Gopher fans, its a bit sobering.

Here is his percent chance of the Gophers reaching this spot in the pairwise by running all the potential outcomes.

# 8 1.0%
#9 9.0%
#10 10.8%
#11 4.6%
#12 2.9%
#13 5.0%
#14 12.9%
#15 21.4%
#16 17.6%
#17 10.8%
#18 4.2%

Thats a lot of potential outcomes that leave the Gophers watching on TV.  In fact, in all his scenarios, Minnesota only got into the NCAA Tournament 36% of the time.  Below is the percent chance of Minnesota reaching each pairwise position based upon whether they win zero, one, or two games this weekend in the Big Ten Tournament.

PWR Win 0 Win 1 Win 2
#8 3.9%
#9 35.9%
#10 0.4% 42.7%
#11 2.6% 15.7%
#12 9.6% 1.8%
#13 1.2% 17.6% 0.0%
#14 12.3% 26.8%
#15 30.5% 24.9%
#16 28.4% 13.5%
#17 19.2% 4.7%
#18 8.4%
Tournament invites: 4.2% 35.7% 100.0%

As you can see, if the Gophers lose Friday in the Big Ten Tournament, Jim Dahl figures that there is only a 4.2% chance that Minnesota will make the NCAA Tournament.  That goes up to just 35.7% if the Gophers win Friday, but lose on Saturday.  Not great.

The Gophers chances are not quite that poor however.  The trick in the calculations that Jim Dahl runs is that every potential game is given a 50-50 chance of going one way or another.  Therefore, there is a 25% chance that Wisconsin makes the NCAA Tournament in his predictions.  You, I, and frankly anyone within a 5 hour radius of Madison know there is no way in hell that is happening.  So while in a perfect 50-50 world, the Gophers just make the tournament 36% of the time...its not a perfect 50-50 world.

Pairwise Predictions

So, how can we fix that and get a better gauge to the Gophers actual tournament chances.  Luckily, we have another option. always has their Pairwise Predictor this time of year.  You can go in and select who you think will win the various games in the conference tournament, and you can calculate how the games will affect the pairwise rankings. But this year that have added an even more valuable tool.

This year has added a webpage that compiles all of the results from people playing with the pairwise predictor.  So how is this different?  Well people can play with all the different possible outcomes of the various games in the pairwise predictor.  As was said before in Jim Dahl's blog, that's over 3 million possibilities.  However, the people playing with the pairwise predictor are picking the most likely outcomes in their selections.  As of 9:00 PM Monday night, USCHO users had completed 5,687 different possibilities.  The good news for Minnesota?  In these 5,687 different possibilities, which again are the most likely to occur, the Gophers make the tournament 70.42% of the time.  Much better than 36% if everything is just a 50-50 chance.  The results aggregator also taken into account the highest potential seed, the lowest potential seed, and the average seed for each team in all of the different simulations.  Like Jim's simulations, it seems that if everything goes as well as possible for Minnesota, they could sneak into the 8th spot which would be the last #2 seed.  On the opposite end, the worst NCAA seed the Gophers could e would be #14, or the second #4 seed.  That's due to automatic qualifiers having a lower PWR number, and this being seeded lower.  The average seed for the Gophers in all the simulations?  #11, which would be right in the middle of the #3 seeds.

Who Should Gopher Fans Root For Besides Minnesota?

So we all know that if Minnesota can win two games this weekend, they will win the Big Ten Tournament, and all this worrying is moot.  But as we can see, with either 0 or 1 win this weekend, things can get sticky quick.  So if you want the best possible results for Minnesota, here is a cheatsheet for who to root hard this weekend:

Atlantic Hockey: All four teams are going to be low enough in the pairwise that they won't affect anyone.  The winner of the tournament will get the auto bid, but no bids will be stolen here.

NCHC: All four teams remaining, North Dakota, Denver, Miami, (OH) and St. Cloud State can all make the tournament.  However, UND, Denver  and Miami are all in the tournament no matter what.  Thus, the team you want to root against is St. Cloud State (this really shouldn't be hard for Gopher fans).  SCSU is currently #11 in the pairwise.  However, they have a unique situation.  If St. Cloud State loses both games this weekend--their semifinal against North Dakota, and the third place game against either Denver or Miami, their total record would be below .500, and this ineligible for the NCAA Tournament.  Basically, if SCSU wins at least one game, they are in the tournament.  They lose out....bye-bye.  That could be a critical spot come Saturday night.

Big Ten:  The only team who can still get in as an at large is Minnesota.  So...if the Gophers don't win it, it doesn't really matter who does.  They will get a bid, and the Gophers will be clinging to life.

ECAC: Harvard and Quinnipiac are the only two teams left here who have a chance.  In fact, Quinnipiac is most likely in no matter what.  There are some scenarios where they could be out, but not many.  Harvard is right on the bubble with the Gophers.  They lose in their semi-final to Quinnipiac Friday, and they are probably watching from home the rest of the way.  That could be the Gophers spot.  So root for a Quinnipiac win Friday night to knock out the Crimson, and hopefully keep open a spot for the Gophers.

Hockey East: Another league where a bid could be stolen.  The only team remaining in the tournament who is in no matter what is Boston University.  New Hampshire upset Providence last weekend and can only get in with a tournament win.  Vermont and UMass-Lowell are the other two teams in the tournament. They also play each other in one semifinal Friday night.  The winner of that game has a chance to get a bid.  The loser is done.  According to USCHO, UML has about a 30% chance to get in, while Vermont only has about 20%.  Frankly, it doesn't really matter who wins as long as BU can beat them Saturday night in the Championship game.  If not, there is one bid definitely not going to Minnesota.

WCHA: Minnesota State and Michigan Tech are definitely in, no matter what.  Bowling Green still has a chance with a loss to Michigan tech in the semifinal, but is almost guaranteed in with a win.  Ferris State is the 4th team and can only get in with a tournament win.  Thus, root for chalk and MSU and Tech to win Friday night.  Bowling Green might still get in, but the chances of Minnesota getting in over them go up significantly with a Bowling Green loss Friday.  They win Friday, and and there is one less bid available for the Gophers.  A Bowling Green and Ferris State Championship game would be the worst possible outcome for Minnesota, as that could result in four bids for the WCHA...meaning at least one if not two less bid opportunities for Minnesota.

What It Comes Down To

In the end, how worried you should be depends on if you believe the straight numbers or the "likely" expected outcomes. The numbers paint a bleaker picture for Minnesota while the (perceived) likely scenarios say that the Gophers should have a better than 50-50 chance of making the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers control their own fate if they win the Big Ten Tournament and even without the auto-bid there are ways for Minnesota to get in with zero or one win this weekend. The problem is that those scenarios will involve sitting, watching, and hoping for as few upsets as possible.  The more upsets, the worse the Gophers chances get (significantly worse in some cases).  So root for Minnesota and root for chalk. Otherwise, the only Minnesota teams you may be rooming for next weekend may be Minnesota State, UMD, and St. Cloud State.