The NCAA Tournament First Round

A brief refresher on what certain stats represent.  

Shots percentage is the percentage of total shots a team takes in a game.  So if they out-shoot their opponent 30-10, they take 30 / (30+10) shots or 75%.

Relative Shots is how much higher their shots percentage is than the expectation given their opponents.  For example: A team maintains a 60% shots percentage, while their opponents allow on average a 45% shots percentage.  60%-45% = 15% or their relative shots percentage.

The indicator ‘50%+’ means those particular stats are only against teams that had a positive shot differential, i.e. took more than 50% of the total shots.  It’s essentially a ‘versus quality competition’ stat.

#1 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. #8 Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers

minnesota - rit

 

The simple fact is that Minnesota is a lot better than RIT and this is one of the bigger mismatches that was possible given the CHA’s autobid (Lindenwood and Robert Morris being the larger mismatches if you go by RPI, though I’d put Penn State below Robert Morris based on their worse shot numbers).

RIT’s saving grace is that the NCAA tournament is single elimination and that weird things can happen in single elimination tournaments.  None of the top seeds won their conference tournament.  Three of those top seeds (Mercyhurst, Minnesota, Clarkson) didn’t even make the finals.  The last place (#6) seed won the CHA tournament (hello RIT).  Single elimination is a grand crapshoot, especially if you can shoot well and have a hot goaltender.

Speaking of which, RIT was out-shot in every single one of their CHA tournament games (31-21, 31-14, 27-28, and 43-29) and got to the NCAA tournament largely on the shoulders of netminder Ali Binnington whose .978 save percentage was second among the various conference tournament participants.  That’s about what she’ll have to do if RIT is to have any hope of beating Minnesota, especially since Gophers’ goaltender Amanda Leveille topped the list with a .984 save percentage.  As Minnesota is likely to out-shoot RIT in the ballpark of 50-10 in regulation, Binnington probably needs to pitch a shutout.

 

#2 Boston College Eagles vs. #7 Clarkson Golden Knights

bc - Clarkson

 

As a Clarkson alum, I’m hoping that the Knights’ struggles against Boston University were due largely in part to it being early in the season and them still figuring out how to cope with losing so many contributing seniors and that their struggles against Wisconsin were due to the Badgers playing the same style of game as the Knights, but better.  The resulting hope is that this is a better matchup for them than any of the other top teams and the fact that they beat Harvard, and that Harvard beat BC for the Beanpot means something.  I’m not sure I believe any of that.

Clarkson is solid at everything, top three at nothing.  That allowed them to withstand the loss of production from last year’s seniors, to compile an impressive record, and to win the ECAC’s #1 seed, but it also prevented them from cementing themselves as a top team and pulling away from the rest of the bubble teams in the Pairwise Rankings.

My biggest criticism of them this season has been that they seem to too often play it safe.  Certainly with a talented and deep crop of defenders and a solid goaltender in Shea Tiley, you expect them to make keeping pucks out of the net a central focus of their game, but I think Clarkson is too good elsewhere to pack things in and try to win games 2-1 or 1-0.  Being too conservative against Boston College is likely to get them out-shot by a 2:1 ratio and defeated 3-0.

Clarkson seems to at times be all too aware of the level of talent of who they’re playing.  They need to forget that Boston College is one of the best teams in the country and forget about being careful around their top players and try to impose their will on the Eagles, however difficult that may be.

#3 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #6 Boston University Terriers

wisconsin - bu

In a way, both of these teams have been season-long enigmas.  Wisconsin has struggled to score at times and Boston University’s play has been wildly inconsistent although the former may be a bit overblown by me.

It was a seven game stretch across the New Year that soured me on the Badgers where their goals scored went 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1 for ten total goals in those seven games.  Granted the opponents were North Dakota, whose goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie is up for the Kazmaier award, WCHA #1 seed Minnesota, Bemidji State, whose goaltender Brittni Mowat probably should be up for the Kazmaier award, and Clarkson whose Shea Tiley won ECAC goaltender and rookie of the year.  They finished 4th in goals scored so obviously there were times when scoring was no problem at all.

Boston University’s inconsistency has baffled more than a few.  They have solid wins over Clarkson, Quinnipiac, and Boston College, and puzzling losses to Harvard (the 9-2 score is the surprise here), Cornell (again, blown out 6-2), Northeastern, Vermont, and Maine.  My best guess is that there’s a significant drop-off between their first and second lines and the difference in shots between #3 forward Victoria Bach (108), and #4 forward Maddie Elia (83) is significant.

Wisconsin is a bit more balanced with nine players (8 forwards) going over a hundred shots on the year.  This game will be won or lost on whether or not BU’s Poulin line can overcome Wisconsin’s depth advantage.

#4 Harvard Crimson vs. #5 Quinnipiac Bobcats

harvard - quinnipiac

I would imagine Quinnipiac is pretty sick of losing 2-1 to Harvard.  That was the score of all three of their meetings this season, and Harvard was the first, fourth, and most recent team to beat the Bobcats.  The games have basically amounted to Quinnipiac calling tails three times and having nothing but heads staring back at them.  To call Harvard a favorite in this game based on their 3-0-0 record this season would be going way too far.

Quinnipiac often suffers for the same reasons Clarkson does.  Their backcheck is ferocious and they work hard to give their goaltender an easy night, but it often comes at the expense of generating chances for themselves.  Their 24.3-22.7 shot average against Harvard mirrors their overall performance against top teams.

When you minimize total chances to that degree, you leave yourselves more susceptible to bad puck luck, and the bouncing, looping overtime winner for Harvard in the ECAC playoffs is a perfect example of that.  I think Quinnipiac would benefit from gambling a bit early and trying to catch Harvard off guard to get a lead.  Then they can pull out the demonic backchecking.

Predictions:

I like the top three seeds and things to finally come up Milhouse for the Bobcats against the Crimson.  I wouldn’t call either team winning an upset in the #4-#5 game.  I’d file Clarkson and BU into the ‘it would be surprising, but not completely unexpected’ category and RIT into ‘they just made history’ should any of them win this weekend.

As I predicted a Minnesota – Quinnipiac final earlier in the year, I will stick with that.

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About Alex

I am awesome.
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