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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hi Brian,

I disagree with people who think common sense should trump objective methods in tournament selection. My reasoning, though perhaps not all that satisfying, goes something like this:

Arguing about what team is "better" in any sport ever is completely useless whenever the teams are reasonably close. We know for sure that LSU was better than Akron in football last year, but you can never settle the question of whether LSU was better than USC. Even when two teams actually play, it is always possible to argue about the conditions, or about the matchups, because winning is not transitive (otherwise, the best team could only be an undefeated team).

With that in mind, if we want to set up an objective method of determining a champion, it's not all that important that we make absolutely sure that the "best" 16 or 64 teams get into the tournament. That's the whole purpose of having so many teams in the tournament. We already know that Michigan is probably the best team (in hockey), Miami is probably the second best team, and so on. But instead of just giving Michigan the trophy, we allow a bunch of teams in there, just to make sure we haven't actually left the "best" team out. Thus, Mankato doesn't really have that much of a complaint: even if you could argue successfully that they were a hair better than Wisconsin, who cares? They would still only be the worst team in the tournament. The tournament would be rigged against them in order to make it as unlikely as possible that there would be a fluke and they would knock off a team like Michigan, who we already are pretty sure is better.

Every year teams are all upset about not making the big dance, but I have little sympathy. If you're on the bubble, you can be thankful if you get in, and if you don't, that's only because you weren't really in the running for Champion anyway (this means you, Syracuse).

Go Blue,

Anthony Stark
Computer Engineer '03
A clarification before I start to address Anthony's main point: I don't think committees should pick teams based on who is "better", but rather who had a better season. Anthony's right that the former item is inherently unknowable (especially, especially, especially in college football, which is the primary reason a playoff makes so much more sense for it than any other sport). The latter is often significantly clearer.

I do agree that arguing about whether Minnesota State or Wisconsin (or Notre Dame) deserves to be the last team in the tournament is a pretty marginal pursuit. But (but!) I think the rigid adherence to the Pairwise in all things does more than occasionally screw over the 13th or 14th best team in the country. The Pairwise not only selects but seeds the tournament and due to systemic flaws often sets up terribly questionable draws where one or two regions are obvious death regions while a couple ECAC lambs putter around and grease the path of, say, horribly undeserving 2007 Michigan State. The "Team X got screwed," which is something that happens quite frequently, points to weird little flaws that affect the entire tourney. If you think this is a small effect not worth mentioning, let me remind you that there's a huge gap between the #2 seed and the #3 seed because of the autobids.

The common argument against this is that you have to win four games and so forth and so on and real champions are real men and don't need easy draws and all manner of different things that completely ignore the effect of luck in a single-elimination hockey tournament. There's a reason #1 overall seeds hardly ever win the national title. No team enters any game with a 100% chance of victory -- so say the Gophers -- so it's important to reward the teams that have earned the easiest path with the actually easiest path. I think the PWR fails to identify those teams on a regular basis and fails to provide the teams it identifies with the greased skids they deserve.

There's a lot of stuff in PWR that just doesn't make sense, and it's important to point these things out since the committee's formed a cargo cult around it instead of using it as an advisory tool. Are there alternatives? Maybe. In last year's edition of "Annual Complaint Against Obscure Ranking System" I proposed a version of the PWR that would use the RPI as a base number and things like COP and TUC and H2H as modifying factors:
Then take your modifying factors and add them to your RPI starting point to come up with a final modified RPI:

TUC-0.0025 +0.005

In this hypothetical world, BC's slight advantages in the PWR categories help them run up the RPI ditch they've dug for themselves but not all the way. This system is still fairly intelligible but has enough fine grain to kill 99% of the silly comparison-flipping and volatility that math-inclined college hockey fans know and loathe so well.
(This comparison was based on one of two Michigan lost to HE schools based on one early-season loss to Northeastern despite having huge RPI gaps on said HE schools; the direct result of that was Michigan ending up in the Bracket Of Death in Colorado.)

And then there's KRACH. KRACH is a very clever mathematical doohickey with some cool recursive properties that many people think is a better system even though the current incarnation of KRACH has a much more mathematically rigorous version of the same problem PWR does -- namely, way overrating a scant few nonconference games. While the PWR managed to shake out of its WCHA love affair soon enough to only put 60% of the conference in the tournament, a KRACH-based process would see no fewer than eight WCHA teams in the tourney. In a word: no. I'm intrigued by this idea of "fictional result KRACH," where some number of fake results against an imaginary, perfectly average team are artificially inserted. (Usually a win and a loss.) This reduces KRACH's infatuation with schedule strength and brings it more into line with what the universe outside WCHA campuses perceives as reality.

Anyway, this is yet another long excursion into college hockey's obscure mathematics that I'm sure about 5% of the reading audience doesn't hate, so I'll cut it short: the problem with the PWR does not just impact the bubble teams, and college hockey can do better with a few fairly simple changes if it realizes something is amiss. Whining == morally required.
I really hope the "We're all gonna die" was sarcasm. It's apparent that the new coaching staff is different and basically used to doing more with a lot less. When you have people in the system who don't believe in it, there is no system. It seems quite obvious that this is the kind of attrition we can afford... Football player is lazy on a team that has lost to Ohio State every year he has been there, something needs to change. Another apparent fact is that we cannot afford to lose everyone, but if you are on a team that is physically weak and the team as a whole wants to get stronger, but one member doesn't; I say goodbye. It's not doing anyone any favors to keep people around that don't work. It's harder on the coaching staff and the players around that person. For the last few years at Michigan we have had the "cream of the crop" talent; with poor training and very mediocre results. What is one more season, if it is in fact the season that will allow players and the team to get better even if the record doesn't show that.

Marc R. Burton
Yes, "we're all going to die" was sarcasm. Justin Boren's departure does not shorten the life expectancy of anyone save the poor sap selected as Michigan's quarterback in 2008.

And yes, in one sense this is the sort of attrition we can afford, but it's in the "I only want players who want to be at Michigan" sense. With that mindset, every departure and every recruit who goes elsewhere is a positive. Where has "I only want players who want to be at Indiana" gotten the Hoosiers? Eh... not far. Given that Justin Boren is the kind of guy who really doesn't get along with Rodriguez or Frey, this is probably for the best. But I kind of wish Boren wasn't that kind of guy and Michigan had more than three scholarship interior linemen on campus.

As to the point about people who don't want to work and saying goodbye, absolutely. I don't think it's a coincidence that under Andy Moeller Michigan's offensive line hovered somewhere between adequate and awful despite receiving a prototype NFL left tackle from heaven. Something was deeply wrong with either talent identification or development. (The latter is more likely, since offensive line is the position at which you basically take a bunch of big guys and try to mold them.)

Matt Lentz was a three year starter who didn't get a sniff from the NFL, something that would have been unheard of at any point up until his existence. Heck, various uniformed commentators put him on All Big Ten or All-America teams simply because of his status as a long-time Michigan starter. Adam Kraus hasn't had the same misguided boosterism behind him, but he is also a three-year starter who will not get drafted because he is not good. The last couple years Michigan was forced to forgo a Boren redshirt and play a wildly unprepared Steve Schilling because there were no other alternatives. Fat and coddled Alex Mitchell was re-inserted into the starting lineup despite showing no real inclination to block anyone. Highly-touted recruits (Mitchell, Zirbel, Gallimore) were more likely to go bust than actually play -- or, in Mitchell's case, deserve to play. The last Carr recruiting class had two linemen in it, one snatched from the MAC. Now, the "Junction Boys"-ish attrition -- Mitchell, Ciulla, Boren, one other rumored departure that did not come to fruition -- is all coming from one place.

In this environment, is what happened against Ohio State surprising?

Andy Moeller was the Jay Paterno of Michigan's staff, and the transition away from his grand mismanagement is going to be a brutal one.

I've defended the Athletic Department's tendency to ram through renovation-related things in the past, but this bit of "surprise!" is far less defensible:
I am currently a senior engineering student here at UM. It has come to my attention (being that I have family at UM-Dearborn) that without notification of any kind, the university has changed its student football ticket policy regarding students at the Dearborn and Flint campuses.

For years (including from when my parents were students at Dearborn) the student ticket policy has been the same for them as for the Ann Arbor campus. However, as students are attempting to purchase football tickets during these two weeks, it is just coming out that they now have had 800 (of what was originally 1200) tickets stripped, thus leaving only 400 tickets for both campuses. Also, they will not be able to attempt to purchase these tickets until June / July. These tickets have been removed to make room for more alumni tickets, which of course provide greater monetary funds for stadium renovations.

Also, as usual, this decision was made behind closed doors during a meeting that no one knew about (sounds familiar i.e. stadium renovations). It was not even at the attention of the administration at the Dearborn campus. The athletic director and chancellor were both not made aware of this decision until this week when students began to complain. This is just another example of the problems with decision making at the University, where the Board of Regents and other administrative positions take the power just to themselves, while making decisions without regard to anyone else.

I believe even Ann Arbor students would be upset by this. I have been attending UM games since I was about 5 years old (with my parents, UM-Dearborn alums), and holding season tickets all five years I have been at the university. I am also in the process of applying for alumni season tickets, yet I am still outraged by this. I am confident other Ann Arbor campus students will also be upset by this, 1, because of the decision making process, and 2, because our students section will be made smaller, for more alumni who will not be cheering as loudly as students would be!

Thank you and Go Blue (from no matter what campus you attend),

Trey S.
I had no idea Flint and Dearborn students had the option to buy student tickets and am not sure if they should, but if they're going to take away student seats -- always a bad idea -- it probably shouldn't be from the sorts of people who are willing to drive in from Flint or Dearborn to see the game. How about the sorority/frat goofs that show up after the first quarter?

In re: the St. Cloud game at Yost: I remembered parts of it wrong. A reader picks up the slack:

Just reading through your Hockey tournament preview and have a few tidbits/discrepancies to share. First off, I was volunteering for the Athletic Dept at the time doing stats and stuff up in the press box for the hockey team that year (2001-02), so I was up there for the UM-St. Cloud State game. While the fans were great with their dollar bills and "Jer-sey Cha-sers" chant, and Komisarek was being his usual intimidating self, you might have missed this. The cheerleaders/mascot were taking up the entire blue line-to-blue line portion of center ice and as you
know, UM liked to do their warm up skate by circling around behind the goalie all the way up to the red line. So these cheerleaders are taking up part of their space, but the team is still going out to the red line and then doing a weird roundabout zig zag to avoid the cheerleaders.

We, in the press box, were saying how "if you're going to bring your skating hockey cheerleaders, then stay on your side of the ice" and commenting on how funny(/great) it would be if one of the UM players tripped the cheerleaders as he was skating by. I comment to one of the other guys that "if it's going to be anybody, it's going to be Komisarek" and immediately after saying that, he does just that! He gives a little tug with his stick on one of the girls skates and she almost bites it, but is able to regain her balance, while a few of us had a hearty laugh about it. I'm almost positive this is what led to the mascot being rather "frisky" with the UM team as he saw this happen. When they were doing the starting lineup announcements, the mascot kept getting real close to the UM players as they were skating up and pointing his stick at them (this must have been when Komo slashed his stick, which I don't remember but is very believable).

You were right in saying that the mascot wasn't done trying to ruffle feathers, but the events you say happened I don't quite remember it that way. I do know the mascot took a while to get off the ice (waiting for the right moment I guess) and he poked his stick at one of the players as he bolted off the ice. Backup goalie Kevin O'Malley goes absolutely Gwen Stefani bananas at this and is foaming at the mouth trying to get at him, while some people (refs, senior citizen volunteers, goal
light guy, not sure who) are restraining O'Malley. I don't remember that some of the players did actually get a hold of the mascot and pummel him though. But I'm way up in the press box and doing a few things here and there pre game so it could have happened that they got ahold of him. I just remember seeing O'Malley going crazy post-incident.

Here are a couple other tidbits about that game -

1) 2002 was the year Canada won hockey gold and there was the famous loonie that the ice/zamboni guy (who was Canadian) put in the ice as a good luck charm. Well, the UM staff did the same thing by putting a block M in the ice, but word got out before the games and some SCSU player dug it up with his skate and removed it, which obviously did not sit well with UM team.

2) I'm not sure if I remember this correctly, but didn't SCSU force UM to use the visitor's locker room because they had the right to? Thus, also infuriating the UM team. Again, I know this happened but I wasn't sure if it was the SCSU game.

3) Jed Ortmeyer made one of the greatest hockey hits I have ever seen along the boards that broke Ortmeyer's stick....even though he only had one hand on it! The stick was stuck between the two players at the time of impact, but Ortmeyer had his right hand on the top of his stick that was basically above each players shoulder and it broke over his shoulder from the brute force of the hit. We have the privelige of having a TV with the game feed on it in the press box and I must have seen that hit about 10 times over and it ranks up there as one of the top 3 hits I've ever seen. The guy from SCSU needed smelling salts to get off the ice and just sat at the end of the bench for the rest of the game. The cameras kept showing him later in thegame and it looked like he didn't know what century he was in. He ended up being fine thankfully.

4) Mark Hartigan, SCSU's Mr. Everything and Hobey Baker Finalist, biffed it when it mattered most. UM was up by 1 in the 3rd when Hartigan had a breakaway that would have tied it.

There was no one within 20 feet of him, so he had all day to come up with a move and move in as fast or as slow as he wanted. And if you remember the Josh Blackburn era, you know that stopping breakaways was not one of Mr. Blackburn's strong suits. He always bit on the first move the guy made, so of course Hartigan fakes the forehand, making Blackburn flop down into the butterfly, and then goes to the backhand with a gaping wide open net....which he misses because he shoots the puck wide. I was in the press conference and Hartigan was a wreck about it, crying
and barely audible when he responded to reporters' questions.

Definitely one of the greatest UM games I've witnessed and obviously
one I remember well,
Re-remembering based on Jerry's remembrances: I did remember some of the Michigan guys really getting to the mascot, then being separated from him; it was at that point that O'Malley went bats trying to get to him. And, God bless him, the third string goalie is exactly the guy who should be doing that.

I believe that was the year Michigan got booted from their locker room, but I think it was Denver -- the #1 seed -- that did it to them.

I also remember the Hartigan breakaway, and the immense relief as the puck whistled by the net, a foot from the post.

Jed Ortmeyer had not one absolutely crushing open ice hit, but two, both of these early in the game. That pair of hits and the goal he scored the next night against Denver solidified Jed as my favorite Michigan hockey player ever and a challenger for favorite athlete, period. There's so much to love: his name is Jed. He's from Nebraska. He was a two-year captain and managed to anchor the top line despite having no real skill except working like a dog at all times. And in the most electric environment I've ever been at for a sporting event he was nails.

Those regionals also gave me my irrational and abiding affection for Eric Werner, the tiny, swashbuckling defenseman they had at the time. (One time at the GLI Michigan was short on forwards against Tech so Werner skated up; he scored a hat trick.) I don't remember which game it was, but I do remember staring at a one-goal Michigan deficit after the second period and just watching the clock tick down. A few minutes into the third, Werner yo-ho-ho-ed his way down from the point -- incredibly dangerous, no one was coming back to cover him -- and one-timed a slick pass into the top corner of the net. I was directly on-line with the shot and the play and saw every detail as it developed. I think that must have been the Denver game. I continually root for Chad Langlais to do stupidly dangerous things because I miss Werner.

Anyway, moral of the story: Yost is bidding for regionals in 2010 and 2011. Hope like hell they get one and sell a kidney to go.